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FAO Issues State of the World’s Forests Report

February 3, 2011

A top expert with the United Nations said Wednesday that forests around the world could start expanding again within a few years.

But, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) global study, trees are still being cut down at “alarmingly high” rates, mainly in the Amazon and Africa.

FAO assistant director general Eduardo Rojas-Briales said that many new trees will only have “junk” value in the disposing of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

While the estimated 9.9 billion acres of forests in the world in 2010 is lower than the 10.9 billion in 2000, the speed at which trees are being felled is slowing from 20.5 million acres a year in the 1990s to 12.8 million in the past decade.

China has launched a massive reforestation program bringing Asia’s total forest area up and forest area in Europe and North America has also grown over the past ten years, according to the FAO’s “State of the World’s Forests” report.

“There are evident signs that we could arrive at a balance in a few years,” Rojas-Briales told AFP, adding that the rate of deforestation was 123 million acres a year just 30 years ago.

“Of course we will still lose very valuable forest and we will gain many junk forests with not so much carbon storage value” and will not be able to soak up the same amount of carbon as the forests lost in recent decades.

The UN praised China, South Korea and India for their actions in trying to bring forests back.

Overall, Asia’s forest area has increased from 223 million acres in 2000 to nearly 296 million in 2010, said the report.

But in South America, forest area has dropped from 2.2 billion acres to 2.1 billion in the past ten years. Latin America remains a problem because it has not used its economic growth in recent years to help its forests, said Rojas-Briales.

“In East Asia they are putting resources and policies into position, in Latin America we don’t see this,” he told the French news agency.

Rojas-Briales added that there were preliminary signs of a major reduction in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over the past two years.

Forest area in Africa has fallen from 49.5 million acres in 2000 to 48 million acres in 2010, said the report. Europe’s total has risen from 2.4 billion acres in 2000 to 2.5 billion at the end of the decade.

The UN has dubbed 2011 as the International Year of Forests. It was carried out by top UN environment officials and Wangaari Maathai — a Kenyan who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her campaigns in defense of trees.

The Conservation International group released a special study for the launch saying that six of the world’s 10 most threatened forest zones are in Asia.

Conservation International said the International Year of Forests “should focus the world’s attention on the need to increase the protection of forests and make sure that their high importance for biodiversity conservation, climate stabilization and economic development is not undervalued.”

The Indo-Burma river and floodplain wetlands, New Zealand forests, Borneo and Sumatra forestlands, the Philippines tropical forests and forests on Brazil’s Atlantic coast are among the most threatened forests in the world, according to the report.

“These forests have all lost 90 percent or more of their original habitat and each harbor at least 1,500 endemic plant species,” said the report. “If these forests are lost, those endemic species are also lost forever.”

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