The role of forests in climate change mitigation and adaptation is one of the most contested concepts in international climate policy.
Climate and forest policies' targets are intrinsically connected in a way that the implementation of one can produce either a trade-off or synergy with the other.
To strengthen synergies between forestry and climate policies, there is a need for the explicit recognition of mutually supportive links between both policies.
To effectively integrate forest management discourses into climate policy, regulations and guidelines have to be grounded in the experiences and lessons of forest policy implementations.
Legislation and law enforcement alone will be insufficient to preserve forest integrity if policies do not promote local ownership, participation and local sustainable development.
In South Africa, forests can play an important role in achieving the broader goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, national policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation seem to narrow the potential contributions of the forest sector to climate protection targets. This is largely because of the divergence between the management goals of forests for climate protection, and products for both industries and livelihoods. This article uses discourse analysis as a methodological tool to analyze South Africa's climate and forest policies to identify the discourses shaping forest policy goals and mandates, and their integration into climate policy targets for forest-based climate change interventions. Four discourses, namely, preservation of forest integrity, social inclusiveness, equitable benefit sharing, and inclusive development of forests and forest-based communities, were identified as the dominant discourses influencing forest policy goals in South Africa. Their influence on forest management programmes has a mix of costs and benefits outcomes. For example, policy responses to the discourse on the preservation of forest integrity have resulted in ecologically sustainable forests in some cases and in other cases restricted the participation of local people in forest enterprise development. Additionally, climate policies recognized six possible interventions with respect to forest-based climate change mitigation and adaptation in South Africa but were silent about the four discourses shaping forest policy goals. Consequently, existing climate policies do not contain regulations to guide forest management for climate change mitigation and adaptation. We therefore recommend that forest-related goals in climate policy be grounded in the past experiences and lessons of forest policy implementations in order to take advantage of the synergies and reduce the trade-offs with respect to multipurpose management of forests for livelihoods, enterprise development, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.