QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS How much of the world is forested? FAST FACTS
Forests cover 30 per cent of the planet’s total land area. The total forested area in 2005 was just
under 4 billion hectares, at least one third less than before the dawn of agriculture, some 10,000
years ago. (100 hectares is the same as 1 square kilometre).
Where are forests found?
Forests are unevenly distributed. The ten most forest-rich countries, which account for two-thirds
of the total forested area, are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States, China,
Australia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Peru and India.
What is a primary forest?
On a global average, more than one-third of all forests are primary forests, defined as forests
where there are no clearly visible indications of human activity and where ecological processes
are not significantly disturbed. Six million hectares of primary forest are lost every year due to
deforestation and modification through selective logging and other human interventions.
Only 20 per cent of the world’s forests remain in large intact areas. These forests consist of
tropical rain forests, mangrove, coastal and swamp forests. Monsoon and deciduous forests
flourish in the drier and more mountainous regions. Primary forests shelter diverse animal and
plant species, and culturally diverse indigenous people, with deep connections to their habitat. What are the protective functions of forests?
Trees quite literally form the foundations of many natural systems. They help to conserve soil and
water, control avalanches, prevent desertification, protect coastal areas and stabilize sand dunes.
Forests are the most important repositories of terrestrial biological biodiversity, housing up to 90
Trees and shrubs play a vital role in the daily life of rural communities. They provide sources of
timber, fuel wood, food, fodder, essential oils, gums, resins and latex, medicines and shade. Forest
animals have a vital role in forest ecology such as pollination, seed dispersal and germination.
What are the links between forests and climate change?
Trees absorb carbon dioxide and are vital carbon sinks. It is estimated that the world’s forests
store 283 Gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass alone, and that carbon stored in forest
biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50 per cent more than the carbon in the
Carbon in forest biomass decreased in Africa, Asia and South America in the period 1990–2005.
For the world as a whole, carbon stocks in forest biomass decreased annually by 1.1 Gigatonne of
carbon (equivalent to 4 billion 25kg sacks of charcoal).
The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than
the transport sector. Curbing deforestation is a highly cost-effective way to reduce emissions.
Other solutions include increased energy efficiency, reduced energy demand, better transport and
converting forestlands to other uses. What is the deforestation rate on Earth?
World population currently stands at 6.5 billion people. It is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2042.
The expansion of agricultural and industrial needs, population growth, poverty, landlessness and
consumer demand are the major driving forces behind deforestation. Most deforestation is due to
conversion of forests to agricultural land. Global removals of wood for timber and fuel amounted to
Worldwide, deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year, an area
the size of Greece or Nicaragua. Africa and South America have the largest net loss of forests. In Africa
it is estimated that nearly half othe forest loss was due to removal of wood fuel. Forests in Europe are
expanding. Asia, which had a net loss in the 1990s, reported a net gain of forests in the past five years,
primarily due to large-scale forestation in China.
Forest planting and the natural expansion of forests help to reduce the net loss of forests. The net
change in forested area in the period 2000–2005 is estimated at 7.3 million hectares a year (an area
about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama), down from 8.9 million hectares a year in the period 1990–
Where should trees be planted as a priority?
more accessible and spread their benefits
Favourable growing conditions give nations in the southern hemisphere an advantage over most
industrial countries in the economics of wood production. Plantations in the south can produce 10–20
cubic metres of wood per hectare per year, considerably more than plantations in most northern
temperate regions and 10–20 times the typical productivity of natural forests worldwide.
The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign encourages the planting of trees in four key areas,
namely: (i) degraded natural forests and wilderness areas; (ii) farms and rural landscapes; (iii)
sustainably managed plantations; and (iv) urban environments. Trees have to be well adapted to local
conditions, and mixtures of species are preferred over monocultures. Many trees have communal
benefits, especially for the poor, and ownership, access and use rights are as important as the number of
Who owns forests and trees?
Forest and tree ownership and tenure are changing. Eighty per cent of the world’s forests are publicly
owned, but private ownership is on the rise, especially in North and Central America and in Oceania.
About 11 per cent of the world’s forests are designated for the conservation of biological diversity.
These areas are mainly, but not exclusively, in protected areas. Who cares for forests and trees?
Around 10 million people are employed in conventional forest management and conservation. Formal
employment in forestry declined by about 10 per cent from 1990 to 2000. More than 1 billion forest
species are suitable for semi-arid areas.
adjacent people are informal custodians of forests. They rely on forest products and services for a
significant part of their livelihoods. Approximately 500 million small-scale farmers in the tropics retain
and manage trees on their farms for livelihood goals.
resistance to landslides and bank erosion
roots bind soil and also reduce erosion. Sources :
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
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