- The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has released key findings ahead of its next Global Forest Resources Assessment (GFRA), which is due next month.
- The data are self-reported by 263 countries and territories, as opposed to coming from satellite imaging.
- The GFRA shows 178 million hectares (439 million acres) of forest has been lost over 20-year period, an area the FAO equated to the size of Libya.
- Nearly 4 million hectares were lost across Africa since 2010. The FAO says that in spite of this, overall rates of deforestation have been falling.
The world has lost 178 million hectares (439 million acres) of forest cover over the past 20 years, which the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) equated to as “about the size of Libya” in key findings from self-reported assessments it collects from more than 260 countries and territories every five years.
The Global Forest Resources Assessment (GFRA) will be published in June, and relies on countries to provide data on areas such as forest coverage, management, stocks and ownership. The preliminary paper refers to the data as the “backbone” of the overall assessment, and says it is “obtained through a transparent, traceable reporting process and a well-established network of officially nominated national correspondents.”
In addition to the loss of the 178 million hectares of forest since 1990, the new report found that the largest annual rate of net forest loss was found across Africa, with 3.9 million hectares (9.6 million acres) lost between 2010 and 2020. Next was South America, with 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres).
Conversely, “Asia had the highest net gain of forest area in 2010-2020, followed by Oceania and Europe,” the paper said.
The rate of deforestation slowed from 7.8 million hectares (19.2 million acres) per year between 1990 and 2000, to 4.7 million hectares (11.6 million acres) per year from 2010 up to 2020. The paper attributed this slowdown to afforestation and natural forest expansion.
Presently, global forest coverage stands at about 4.06 billion hectares (10 billion acres), or 32% of total land area; Russia, China, Brazil, the U.S. and Canada account for more than half of that forest cover.
According to the last GFRA in 2015, Brazil, Indonesia and Myanmar reported the most forest loss between 2010 and 2015.
While the GFRA data rely on countries’ transparency to report on these issues, recent satellite data have pointed to a number of hotspots in the Brazilian Amazon, where an area about 1.8 times the size of Luxembourg was deforested before being burned last year.
In Indonesia, satellite data have shown 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres) of illegal plantations that encroach upon the country’s forests. These forests are most at risk from the encroachment of smallholders as opposed to large-scale plantations.
And in the Mekong Delta, more than 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) of forest were lost across Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand between 2010 and 2017.
The FAO’s key findings do point to some positive developments: That while about 420 million hectares (1 billion acres) of forest have been cleared over the past 20 years, the rate has “declined substantially.”
“In the most recent five-year period (2015–2020), the annual rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares (24 million acres), down from 12 million hectares (29 million acres) in 2010-2015,” the paper said.
Banner image: Inspecting logs from Myanmar, Pianma, Yunnan, 2012. Photo courtesy EIA.