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Forest loss slows as UN marks ‘International Year of Forests’

Global forest cover by country

Global forest cover by country. Background: redwood forest in Woodside, California

Forests are a key part toward the shift toward a “greener” economy said a cadre of U.N. officials as the body officially launched its International Year of Forests to highlight the global importance of forests.

“Every one of us, all seven billion people on earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to the health of our forest ecosystems,” said Jan McAlpine, the Director of the U.N. Forum on Forests, in a statement.

“[Forests] are also cornerstones of our economies, whose real value has all too often been invisible in national accounts of profit and loss,” added Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the U.N. Environment Program.

To mark the beginning of the International Year of Forests, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO), a report that comes out every two years and assesses the status of global forest resources.

SOFO 2011 includes information on trends in forest management, production of forest products, and raw forest cover data. The report notes that the forestry sector is working to reduce its impact on the environment through better forest management and improved energy efficiency in production of forest products.

The International Year of Forests comes at what could represent a transition point for forests. Deforestation rates are slowing and policy-makers are showing unprecedented interest in protecting forests as a climate change mitigation strategy known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). Some governments have enacted laws restricting trade in illegally logged timber, while retailers are showing new concern on the origin of forest products.

But risks to forests remain. Rising demand for food, fiber, and fuel will put pressure on remaining forest lands while climate change could increase the vulnerability of some forests to drought, fire, and disease outbreaks. Poor design, insufficient governance, and entrenched interests in the forestry sector intent on maintaining the status quo could undermine the REDD mechanism, hurting a key potential source of funding for forest protection and management.

forest cover in tropical countries

Global Forests

According to FAO data released last year, forests presently cover around 31 percent of global land area, or nearly 4 billion hectares.

FAO figures show deforestation across 121 tropical countries averaged 9.34 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010, down from 11.33 million hectares per year in the 1990s. The decline has accelerated since 2005 due Brazil’s dramatic reduction of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which peaked at 27,772 square kilometers in 2004 but is expected to come in at less than 8,000 for 2010. Overall Brazil’s reduction in deforestation since 2005—which fell from 3.2 million hectares per year from 2000-2005 to 2.5 million hectares in 2005-2010—more than offset increases in forest clearing in other major forest countries including Indonesia (107 percent increase), Peru (94 percent), and Madagascar (36 percent) during the period.

FAO estimates global deforestation fell from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 13 million hectares per year in the past decade. Factoring in planted forests, the rate of forest loss fell from 8.3 million hectares per year to 5.2 million hectares, an area about the size of Costa Rica.

Primary forest, the most carbon-dense and biologically diverse form of forest, declined by more than 40 million hectares over the past decade, primarily a result of first-time logging.

change in annual deforestation rate

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