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The Global Forest Coalition was founded in the year 2000 by 19 NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (IPOs) from all over the world. It is a successor to the NGO Forest Working Group, which was originally established in 1995. In 1997, the NGO Forest Working Group took the lead in the multi-stakeholder initiative to address the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation (co-coordinated by the Netherlands Committee for IUCN and the World Rainforest Movement). This initiative published 40 case studies and 20 in-depth studies on the underlying causes of forest loss and organized nine regional and global workshops.

Recognizing the importance of NGOs and IPOs from developing countries participating in international forest policy processes, the members of the NGO Forest Working Group decided to establish the Global Forest Coalition as an inclusive, informal alliance of Southern and Northern NGOs and IPOs.

Until 2005, the Global Forest Coalition was formally hosted by the World Rainforest Movement. In November 2005, the Global Forest Coalition was registered as an independent foundation in the Netherlands.