23 March 2007

Africa: Global Report Cites Progress in Slowing Forest lLosses

Accra — A number of regions of the world are reversing centuries of deforestation and are now showing an increase in forest area, according to FAO's State of the World's Forests report, released last week.

The report, which was launched at the opening of the 18th Session of FAO's Committee on Forestry, underlines the positive effects of economic prosperity and careful forest management in saving forests, noting that over 100 countries have established national forest programmes.

"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."

Global forest cover amounts to just under four billion hectares, covering about 30 percent of the world's land area. From 1990 to 2005, the world lost three percent of its total forest area, an average decrease of some 0.2 percent per year, according to FAO data.

From 2000 to 2005, 57 countries reported an increase in forest area, and 83 reported a decrease. However, the net forest loss remains at 7.3 million hectares per year or 20 000 hectares per day, equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris.

Ten countries account for 80 percent 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 Southeast Asia between 2000 and 2005.

Rapid economic growth may help to create the conditions for sustainable forest management, the report said. Forest institutions in the region are getting stronger in a number of countries, and the trend towards more participatory decision-making continues. On the other hand, illegal logging is increasing in some countries. Forest fires may increase in severity if the global climate continues to become warmer.

Forests are obtaining political support and commitment at the highest levels in Africa. Latin American countries have formed networks to fight fires, to increase the effectiveness of protected area management and to improve watershed management. These measures are expected to improve forest management in the two regions.

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

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

Forests threatened by 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.

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 percent of forest fires are caused by people, due to land clearing, and arson. A major non-human cause of wildfires is lightening.

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.

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