Lessons from a Decade of Forest and Climate Work | WWF
Lessons from a Decade of Forest and Climate Work

Posted on 27 November 2019

WWF has spent the last decade supporting forest and climate work around the globe.
By Emelin Gasparrini, WWF Forest and Climate
WWF has spent the last decade supporting forest and climate work around the globe. From providing technical support to community monitoring programs in remote Indigenous communities to working alongside our partners to advocate for forests inclusion in the Paris Agreement, we endeavor to make explicit the climate aspects of forest conservation and make sure diverse local, national, and global processes are aligned and working towards common goals.
That’s why when we found ourselves in a workshop with colleagues this year from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, DRC, Germany, Guyana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Norway, and Peru, we prioritized collecting lessons learned from those who had been working on similar processes across contexts and geographies. Here are our top five.
Focus on developing long-term relationships and trust.
We can’t parachute in with quick-fix solutions and expect to achieve real results. Big picture problems require long-term engagement, which means we have to keep showing up, and truly listen, to earn the support of partners, especially in communities. To do this well, we also need to include Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) and other mechanisms in order to guarantee Indigenous peoples and Local Communities’ rights. They are key strategic partners in forest and climate work, and protecting their rights is essential to building strong partnerships and achieving impactful results. We need to build and support their capacities to both engage in and lead all phases of a process if we want our efforts to be sustainable.
More voices are needed.
We need to acknowledge our own blind spots and bring more people into the conversation, especially Indigenous peoples and local communities. This means that, first, we must listen to them, especially when they are identifying their goals, major obstacles, and types of support they need. When we start by listening, we are better able to describe common objectives that meet those needs. By bringing in those who have been excluded, we create the opportunity to find organic solutions in unexpected places with new or unusual allies. This also means we need to get better at sharing ideas and paying attention to bottom-up processes, to avoid a big picture focus preventing us from integrating local-scale processes that are starting to make real progress on implementation.
Don’t get distracted by the latest buzzwords.
One of the strengths of forest and climate work is that it is inherently cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary, and it is the rare program that fits neatly into only one box. But donor investment hopping from one buzzword to another can create huge hurdles and inefficiencies on the ground, as programs must perpetually rebrand themselves to be eligible for continued funding. This doesn’t mean we can’t focus on new or better approaches, but that short-term-view investing can have counterproductive consequences.
Scaling up does not simply mean copying and pasting solutions to larger scale.
A methodology designed to scale up local interventions must be in place from the beginning, otherwise it can be difficult to take the experience to a higher level. Pay attention to consistency, compatibility, feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and make sure you are using a holistic approach.  We must also consider and plan for how the different scales connect to one another. For example, local level development plans need to take relevant national and subnational planning documents or regulations into account as a basis for planning. Without looking at the full context, you risk creating competing parallel systems, or lose the opportunity to make connections between processes that would make them more impactful.
Failure can be a learning experience.
There are understandable but sometimes disadvantageous impulses to avoid risk at all costs or chart a granular path forward, on the part of both donors and implementers, and we can minimize risk by learning from what has been done and applying what is most useful to our own context. However, a change in government or market price can dramatically impact the context of our work, requiring a dynamic, adaptable mindset. Often, this leads to opportunities and innovations unforeseen in the planning stages, and some lessons can only be learned - and some innovations only discovered - by doing, and, sometimes, failing.
Large tree in a forest with hills in the background.
Traditional tree of the zone (this tree has a skin which looks like a paper, with different layers). Huascaran National Park, Ancash, Peru
© Nicolas Villaume / WWF-US