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Forests

2. How much forest is there on the planet and at what rate is it disappearing?

  • 2.1 How much of the planet is covered with/by forests?
  • 2.2 How fast are forests disappearing?
  • 2.3 How much is there of the different kinds of forests?

The area of land covered by forest is a key piece of information for forest policy, since it is one of the measures of the importance of forests in a country or region.

Monitoring the extent and characteristics of forest resources aims to reduce unplanned deforestation, restore and rehabilitate degraded forest landscapes, manage forests in a sustainable way and evaluate the importance of carbon sequestration by forests and trees, which contributes to moderating the global climate.

With this aim in mind, individual countries provided information to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( ) on the status and changes over time of four aspects of forests:

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2.1 How much of the planet is covered with/by forests?

Total forest area in 2005 was estimated to be around 30% of the planet’s land area, just under 40 million km2. This corresponds to an average of 0.62 ha (6200 m2) per capita, though this is unevenly distributed. This estimate was based on data on forest area reported by 228 countries and territories.

Among world regions, Europe (which, for the purpose of this assessment includes the Russian Federation) accounts for one-quarter of total forest area, followed by South America and then North and Central America. South America is the region with the highest percentage of forest cover (almost half of the land area) and Asia is the region with the lowest percentage of forest cover (less than 20% of land area).

Table: Forest cover by subregion 2005

The five countries with the largest forest areas are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China. Jointly they account for more than half of the worlds forest area and the Russian Federation alone accounts for 20% of the world total. More...

2.2 How fast are forests disappearing?

Overall, deforestation has been taking place at a pace of about 130 000 km2 (13 million hectares) per year during the period 1990–2005 (an area the size of Greece), with few signs of a significant decrease over time. Though deforestation continues at an alarming rate, the annual net loss of forest area is decreasing due to tree planting and natural expansion of forests in some countries and regions.

Thus when taking into account both estimated gains and losses, the total net loss in forest area between 1990 and 2000 was about 89 000 km2 per year. Thereafter, in the period between 2000 and 2005 estimated net loss in forest area was somewhat lower with 73 000 km2 per year, equivalent to a loss of 200 km2 of forest per day. More...

2.3 How much is there of the different kinds of forests?

Forests and other wooded land were classified into different types, based on their characteristics. Primary forests and modified natural forests comprise native forest tree species only; semi-natural forests are the result of assisted natural regeneration, planting or seeding. Forest plantations are defined as forests of introduced or native species, established through planting or seeding, with few species, even spacing and/or even-aged stands.

Box on planted forests

When it is possible to classify forest in this way, it helps clarify the extent to which forests are modified and provides an indication of the level of management and of wood production potential. However, information on all classes was not always readily available for all countries.

Primary forest makes up more than a third of total forest area, but these primary forests are unevenly distributed. Only limited areas of primary forests are found in the Caribbean, Europe (excluding the Russian Federation) and the arid zones of Africa and Asia. The largest expanse of primary forest is located in the Amazon. Countries in North and Central America and the Russian Federation also have a high proportion of primary forests.

Modified natural forests cover slightly more than half of total forest area. About 7% of forests are considered semi-natural forests and forest plantations account for about 4% of forests. In the case of other wooded land, over two thirds are considered modified natural wooded land.

The general trend is that areas of primary forest and modified natural forest are decreasing, while the areas of semi-natural forest and forest plantation are increasing. Estimates indicate that about 60 000 km2 per year of primary forest have been lost or modified by logging or other human interventions since 1990 (not considering losses in the Russian Federation), and there is no indication that the loss of primary forests is slowing down. In Brazil and Indonesia alone 49 000 km2 of primary forest are lost on average per year. However, a number of countries which have been setting aside natural forest areas have registered increases in primary forest area, since with time, these areas evolve into forests which fit the definition of primary forests.

Two specific forest types, mangroves and bamboo, have been the subject of supplementary study. Mangroves cover an estimated 152 000 km2 and bamboo some 400 000 km2. More...

Box on mangroves

Box on bamboo


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