Net forest loss 20,000 hectares per day

Posted: 20 March 2007

Between 1990 to 2005, the world lost 3 per cent of its total forest area, an average decrease of some 0.2 per cent per year, according to FAO's State of the World's Forests 2007 report, published in March. Net forest loss is 7.3 million hectares per year or 20,000 hectares per day, equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris.

But there is some good news in the report: a number of regions of the world are reversing centuries of deforestation and are now showing an increase in forest area. From 2000 to 2005, 57 countries reported an increase in forest area, and 83 reported a decrease.

Forestry makes a valuable contribution to sustainable development in all parts of the world, but progress towards sustainable forest management has been uneven, says the report.

© FAO/M.A. Williams
© FAO/M.A. Williams
Better management is key to forest survival. Photo credit © FAO/M.A. Williams
"Many countries have shown the political will to improve forest management by revising policies and legislation and strengthening forestry institutions. Increasing attention is being paid to the conservation of soil, water, biological diversity and other environmental values," said David Harcharik, FAO Deputy Director-General. "However, countries that are facing the most serious challenges in achieving sustainable forest management are those with the highest rates of poverty and civil conflict.2

Global forest cover amounts to just under four billion hectares, covering about 30 per cent of the world's land area.

Ten countries account for 80 per cent of the world's primary forests, of which Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Brazil saw the highest losses in primary forest in the five years running from 2000 to 2005.

Regional outlook

In Asia and the Pacific, net forest area increased in that same period, reversing the downward trend of the preceding decades. The increase was mainly in East Asia, where large investments in forest plantations in China were high enough to offset high rates of deforestation in other areas. The net loss of forest area actually accelerated in South-east Asia between 2000 and 2005.

Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are currently the two regions with the highest losses. Africa, which accounts for about 16 per cent of the total global forest area, lost over 9 per cent of its forests between 1990 and 2005. Latin America and the Caribbean, with over 47 per cent of the world's forests saw an increase in the annual net loss between 2000 and 2005, from 0.46 percent to 0.51 per cent.

Europe and North America showed net increases in forest area over the reporting period.

Fire and pests

Forests are also vulnerable to other threats such as insects, diseases, invasive species and forest fires. Rapid transport, ease of travel and growing international trade have facilitated the spread of pests. The report notes that there is a growing trend towards adopting management strategies to contain forest pests, particularly in developed countries.

Forest fire
Forest fire
Investing in fire prevention can be more cost effective than concentrating on fire control. Photo courtesy United States Forest Service
While many countries report that fire seasons are becoming more severe, there is insufficient information to conclude whether the total area burned or number of forest fires is increasing globally. Between 80 and 99 per cent of forest fires are caused by people, due to land clearing, and arson. A major non-human cause of wildfires is lightning.

Climate change

Evidence is mounting that forests will be profoundly affected by climate change, such as increasing damage to forest health caused by the greater incidence of fire, pests and diseases. At the same time, new investments in forests to mitigate climate change lag behind the optimistic expectations of many following the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005. concludes the report.

To read the report, go here.