event 07 Oct 2018

SWWW 2018 Outcomes // Understanding the Forest-Water Nexus: Redefining the Narrative?

This event discussed the prevailing narratives surrounding forests and water: the myths, the complex truths and the implications our understanding has on practice and policy, and vice versa. It aims to bridge the divide between the water and forest sectors and suggest next steps to better integrate forests in water management and water in forest management.

Logo stockholm world water week 2018 outcomes 1700x1000

The SWWW 2018 Outcomes series provides access to key resources and highlights the main takeaways from panel sessions at Stockholm Water Week 2018 related to the water-energy-food Nexus.

Water security is one our greatest challenges. Trees and forests are imperative for water flows. Integrated land-water management, including the strategic management of forests and landscapes with water considerations, will be crucial for resilient water supply. Approximately 75% of available freshwater sources come from forested watersheds (MEA, 2005). Despite the importance of forests as natural infrastructure, water is not a management consideration for 75% of forests worldwide.

Forests and their water-related ecosystem services can provide cost-effective, natural solutions to address growing water scarcity. It is estimated that forests as green infrastructure for water can cost less than USD 2 per person per year, which is offset by savings from reduced water treatment.



Forest-water ecosystem services are crucial for society, both as provisioning services, regulating and cultural ecosystem services:

  • Water is central to all 17 SDGs and must be higher up on the international agendas. Climate, forest, water and people are interconnected and must be managed as a system.
  • To enhance water security, forests upstream need to be managed to ensure water downstream, and forests upwind need to be managed to ensure rainfall downwind.
  • Natural forests improve resilience of water supply and its function cannot be easily replicated by planted forest.
  • Deforestation affects water supply. Potential consequences from large-scale deforestation are higher water risks that affect not only one geographical area, but many different geographical regions since evaporation from one forest area influences rainfall in downwind areas.
  • Halting deforestation, preventing forest degradation and restoring forests is important for water security but must be context sensitive and requires the right kind of forest (or tree) at the right place and at the right time.
  • Forests must be managed for resilience of water supplies to enable adaptation to global change. This requires adaptation of forest management practices, protection and restoration of water towers; for example, focused reforestation efforts in locations where water supply is relatively abundant, establishment of thresholds for forest removal to optimise water budgets, assessment and consideration to site-specific circumstances.
  • New institutional and governance frameworks can play a key role in optimising climate-forest-water management. National governments should work together on global water governance to ensure resilient and reliable upstream-downstream and upwind-downwind water supplies.
  • There are outstanding knowledge gaps on forest-water interactions that urgently needs to be tackled to adequately implement system-based approaches, e.g. the characteristics and locations of natural and managed forests that contribute to sustainability of water supply and/or most important as sources of water.


  1. We need much more knowledge on local and regional scales on how the forest-water nexus works to support the development of policies and management solutions. Monitoring needs to become more effective, using satellite data and co-production of knowledge. Existing science is often difficult to use for policy and decision making.
  2. We need to start managing forests for water, in parallel to biodiversity and climate, using a systems/landscape approach. Local communities’ and indigenous people’s rights and knowledge should be respected, and new institutional frameworks are required as well as more case studies on integrated forest-water management to learn from.

Networks that support the learning objectives

  • This event was organized to discuss and advance conclusions and recommendations from the FAO/IUCN/SIWI report “Championing the Forest-Water Nexus”, the outcome of a meeting of 12 experts from the forest and water sectors focusing on the complex forest-water nexus in landscape management.
  • The key note presentation was based on the report “Forest and water on a changing planet” recently published by the International Union of Forestry Research Organisations (IUFRO) on behalf of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).


Original event


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