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  FAO website 14 Nov 05
Deforestation continues at an alarming rate But net forest loss slowing down – FAO presents new global forest figures

PlanetArk, 15 Nov 05
FACTBOX - The World's Forests

PlanetArk 15 Nov 05
World Forest Losses Slowing But Still Alarming - UN
Story by Crispian Balmer


BBC Online
14 Nov 05

Deforestation slowing, UN says

The speed of global deforestation is showing signs of slowing down because of new planting and natural forest extension, according to new figures.

But the world's forests are still being destroyed at an alarming rate, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, presenting details from a new report.

The numbers measure net loss, taking into account forest growth from new planting and natural expansion. An average 7.3 million hectares was lost annually over the last five years. This was down from 8.9 million hectares (22 million acres) a year between 1990 and 2000.

"The deforestation continues at an alarming rate, but thanks to efforts in planting new trees and restoring degraded lands as well as natural [forest] expansion in some regions, the net loss is a little lower," said Mette Loyche Wilkie, co-ordinator of the agency's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005.

Ms Wilkie said that deforestation, mainly the conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at a rate of about 13 million hectares (32 million acres) per year.

Alarming loss

More than half of the world's forest area is found in the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, US and China combined, the agency said.

The decrease of forest area is mainly due to deforestation or natural disasters that make the land incapable of regenerating on its own, Ms Wilkie said.

The five-year report, which covered 229 countries, found that forests cover about 30% of the total land area; nearly four billion hectares (9.9 billion acres). Deforestation was most extensive in South America, where an average of 4.3 million hectares (10.6 million acres) were lost annually over the last five years, followed by Africa with 4 million hectares (9.8 million acres), the Rome-based agency said. North America and Oceania saw smaller forest losses over the same period, while forest areas in Asia and Europe grew, according to the FAO.

"There's reason to be very optimistic," said Hosny El-Lakany, the agency's assistant director-general for forestry. "Deforestation is going down and, maybe, it will go further down in the future," he said.

A number of different functions of forests make them a crucial component of the Earth's biosphere. They conserve biological diversity, soil and water and also serve as carbon sinks - locking up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon stored in forest biomass alone is about 283 gigatonnes (Gt). The carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50% more than the carbon in the atmosphere.

The full report will be released in January, the agency said.

FAO website 14 Nov 05
Deforestation continues at an alarming rate But net forest loss slowing down – FAO presents new global forest figures

Rome – Each year about 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost due to deforestation, but the rate of net forest loss is slowing down, thanks to new planting and natural expansion of existing forests, FAO announced today.

The annual net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005 was 7.3 million hectares/year -- an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama -- down from an estimated 8.9 million ha/yr between 1990 and 2000. This is equivalent to a net loss of 0.18 percent of the world’s forests annually.

These are some of the key findings of The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 (FRA 2005), the most comprehensive assessment to date of forest resources, their uses and value, covering 229 countries and territories between 1990 and 2005.

“This assessment allows us to gauge the important role of the world’s forest resources in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, in particular in meeting the targets set for reducing poverty and ensuring a sustainable global environment," said Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department.

"It provides a comprehensive update on how we manage and use our forests, and shows that while good progress is being made in many places, unfortunately forest resources are still being lost or degraded at an alarmingly high rate,” he added.

The changing profile of world forests

Forests now cover nearly 4 billion hectares or 30 percent of the world’s land area, however 10 countries account for two-thirds of all forest area: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Peru, the Russian Federation and the United States of America.

South America suffered the largest net loss of forests between 2000 and 2005 - around 4.3 million hectares per year - followed by Africa, which lost 4.0 million hectares annually. Oceania had a net loss of 356 000 ha/year in 2000-2005, while North and Central America together had a net loss of 333 000 ha/yr. Asia moved from a net loss of around 800 000 ha per year in the 1990s to a net gain of one million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005, primarily as a result of large-scale afforestation reported by China. Forest areas in Europe continued to expand, although at a slower rate than in the 1990s.

Primary forests -- that is forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities -- account for 36 percent of total forest area, but are being lost or modified at a rate of 6 million hectares a year through deforestation or selective logging.

FRA 2005 also found that new forests and trees are being planted at increasing rates, but plantations still account for less than 5 percent of forest area, it notes.

From biological diversity to carbon sequestration

Forests have multiple functions, including conservation of biological diversity, soil and water, supplying wood and non-wood products, providing recreation opportunities and serving as carbon sinks.

While most forests are managed for multiple uses, FRA 2005 found that 11 percent are designated principally for the conservation of biological diversity -- and such areas have increased by an estimated 96 million hectares since 1990.

Around 348 million hectares of forests are used to conserve soil and water, control avalanches and desertification, stabilize sand dunes and protect coastal areas.

One-third of the world’s forests are mainly used for production of wood, fibre and non-wood products, and more than half have production of these products as one of their management objectives, indicating the importance of forest products at the local, national and international levels.

Forests are particularly important as carbon sinks: the amount of carbon stored in forest biomass alone is about 283 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon, though it decreased globally by 1.1 Gt annually between 1990 and 2005. Carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50 percent more than the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

A global effort

The data for FRA 2005 was provided to FAO by national governments and resource assessment specialists, with more than 800 people involved in the entire process, including 172 national assessment teams, according to Mette Lřyche Wilkie, who coordinated the effort.

"The outcome of this global partnership is better data, a more transparent reporting process and enhanced capacity to analyse and report on forests and forest resources,” she said.

“The findings of FRA 2005 will support decision-making for policies, programmes and outlook studies in forestry and sustainable development at all levels - local, national and international,” Ms Wilkie added.

FRA 2005 results: http://www.fao.org/forestry/fra2005

PlanetArk 15 Nov 05
World Forest Losses Slowing But Still Alarming - UN
Story by Crispian Balmer

ROME - Some 13 million hectares of forests are destroyed around the world each year, an area the size of Greece, although the net loss of trees has finally slowed thanks mainly to new plantations, the United Nations said on Monday.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said its Global Forest Resources Assessment was the most exhaustive such survey undertaken, covering 229 countries and territories.

Taking into account plantations, landscape restoration and the natural expansion of some forests, the FAO said the net loss of forest area between 2000-2005 was some 7.3 million hectares a year against 8.9 million hectares in the 1990-2000 period.

FAO officials hailed the improvement in the net loss figure, saying China in particular had embarked on a major tree-growing programme to provide timber for its construction boom and to tackle the process of deforestation.

"There are reasons to be very optimistic about what is happening," Hosny El-Lakany, FAO's assistant director general for forestry, told a news conference.

However, environmental groups accused the FAO of playing down the devastation of the world's most important forests. "FAO continues to emphasise the net forest loss number. This is misleading because most of the world's most valuable forests, especially in the tropics, are vanishing as fast as ever," said Simon Counsell, head of the Rainforest Foundation in Britain.

"These figures are the main basis for global decision-making on world's most important eco-systems. We fear that bad decisions are going to made on the basis of bad data."

BILLIONS OF TREES

FAO said forests covered nearly 4 billion hectares, some 30 percent of the world's land, with 10 countries accounting for two-thirds of all forest area -- Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Peru, Russia and the United States.

South America suffered the largest net loss of forests between 2000 and 2005 -- around 4.3 million hectares per year -- followed by Africa, which lost 4 million hectares annually. By contrast, forest area grew in Europe, although at a slower rate than in the 1990s, while Asia moved from a net loss of some 800,000 hectares a year to a net gain of 1 million a year -- thanks mainly to large scale planting in China.

The FAO defines a forest as an area larger than 0.5 hectares where 10 percent of the ground is covered by tree canopy.

The Rainforest Foundation said this definition was far too loose. "Ten percent is just land with a few trees dotted around. They are exaggerating the area of forest," Counsell said. The canopy of a tropical forest often covers almost 100 percent of the ground.

Environmentalists say when this figure falls below 50 percent, the forest's eco-system is wrecked.

But the FAO defended its methodology, saying it was almost impossible to gauge the degradation inside forests, and warned against excessive alarmism.

It said primary forests, which are areas undisturbed by humans, represented 36 percent of total global forests, with some 6 million hectares lost or modified each year. "It is obviously very sad to lose this amount, but you should bear in mind that it represents just 0.4 percent of total primary forest," said survey co-ordinator, Mette Loyche Wilkie.

FAO said plantations accounted for less than 5 percent of all the world's forest areas, while 11 percent of forests were official conservation areas -- up 96 million hectares on 1990.

PlanetArk, 15 Nov 05
FACTBOX - The World's Forests

About 13 million hectares of forests are destroyed around the world each year, an area the size of Greece, although the net loss of trees has finally slowed thanks mainly to new plantations, the United Nations said on Monday. Here are key facts about the world's forests:

-- Russia has the largest area under forests -- 850 million hectares (2.1 billion acres) -- taking up just over half the country's land area.

-- Tropical forests account for more than half world's forest area and boreal/polar forests one quarter.

-- More than 8,000 tree species -- 10 percent of the world's total -- are threatened with extinction.

-- Forests are home to 300 million people around the world and more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods.

-- The global annual trade in forest products is worth some $270 billion. Losses due to illegal cutting of forests are estimated at $10 billion.

-- Forests provide habitats to about two-thirds of all species on earth.

-- Wood energy accounts for 7 to 9 percent of energy consumed worldwide. More than 2 billion people depend on wood fuel for cooking, heating and food preservation.

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization (www.fao.org); World Bank (www.worldbank.org); Global Trees Campaign (www.globaltrees.org)

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