In attempting to comprehend the mixed bag of international forest initiatives, each with their own economies and politics, it is sometimes hard to keep sight of the actual issues they are trying to address. Thus, we might summarize the main physical forest problems as:

Declining quantity of natural forest assets. This is felt most strongly by stakeholders with strong economic and livelihood dependence on forests.

Declining quality of forest environmental processes. Local stakeholders bear the costs, but so also does the international community in losing environmental services such as carbon storage and bioquality.

International initiatives have not always been built on a good understanding of the underlying causes of forest problems. These are complex, and interacting policy, institutional and market-related failures include the following:

Not all forest values are fully recognized in real-world agendas and decision-making (especially environmental and livelihood-level values). There are particular clashes between global and local values – with weak efforts to reconcile them at national level.

Policy, markets and stock markets signal that forest-asset stripping for timber or land ‘pays’; yet sustainable forest management (SFM) is unprofitable. Short-termism in electoral politics, valuing companies, etc, mean that those with ready access to political processes and resources are able to get the lion’s share of forest assets.

Institutions perpetuate inequalities in benefit/cost-sharing from forests, with few mechanisms for stakeholders to make their claims to forests, and to negotiate with other stakeholders.

Capacity to practise SFM is weak – or is not fully recognized – for example, the capacity of local traditional stakeholders.