The UN Food and Agricultural Organization has released the Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015. Coming a week after the world learned that we have 3 trillion trees, about 4 times more than we thought, the report takes on even more importance.
From the report’s Forward: “FRA 2015 shows a very encouraging tendency towards a reduction in the rates of deforestation and carbon emissions from forests and increases in capacity for sustainable forest management. The reliability of the information collected has also improved enormously – presently national forest inventories apply to some 81 percent of global forest area, a substantial increase over the past 10 years.
Two broad conclusions can be drawn: 1) we have a wealth of reliable information today on the situation of the world’s forests; and 2) the direction of change is positive, with many impressive examples of progress in all regions of the world. However this positive trend needs to be strengthened, especially in the countries that are lagging behind.”
FAO Senior Forestry Officer Kenneth MacDicken is among those monitoring how the forests are faring.
“What we’ve seen is a continued forest loss in the tropics, not surprisingly,” he says. “But the good news is that it’s happening at a rate that is half of what it was in the 1990s. So, the deforestation rate is slowing.”
Forests are still being cut down to make room for agriculture, the FAO said. But the process is slowing.
The FAO report said, “Countries have more knowledge of their forest resources than ever before.”
However, between 1990 and 2015, there was a net loss of 129 million hectares of forest. That’s an area about the size of South Africa. The biggest forest loss occurred in Africa and South America.
The report said “challenges remain” and warned, “the existence of sound policies, legislation and regulation is not always coupled with effective incentives or enforcement … and that unsustainable forest practices and forest conversion to farmland clearly persist.”
Since 1990, the world’s population has grown by 37 percent. Agricultural food demand has increased by 40 percent.
At the same time, MacDicken said, forest areas have declined by 3.2 percent.
In 1990 the world had 4128 million ha of forest; by 2015 this area has decreased to 3 999 million ha. This is a change from 31.6 percent of global land area in 1990 to 30.6 percent1 in 2015, an annual loss rate of 0.13%.
MacDicken said while a direct impact of climate change on forests is hard to measure, indirect effects are being monitored. These include more large wildfires and destructive insects and diseases that are not killed off by milder winters.”
Activists have written about the decline of forests for quite some time, adding climate change to the list of what is dooming the forest. So it’s good to note that so far at least, the loss of forest area is small and getting smaller even as temperatures have risen since 1976.
As is the case with other ecosystems, humans pose a major threat to forests. However, it is cutting them down and burning them that form the bulk of our transgressions, not human caused climate change.