Some 13 million hectares of forest a year were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes between 2000 and 2010, a report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has found. This means a fall from about 16 million hectares a year from the decade before.
“For the first time, we are able to show that the rate of deforestation has decreased globally as a result of concerted efforts taken both at local and international level,” said Eduardo Rojas, assistant director of the FAO’s forestry department.
With an annual seven million hectares of new forests being planted – and tree planting efforts being particularly ambitious in Asia – the net loss of forest area went down to 5.2 million hectares a year between 2000 and 2010, from 8.3 million a year in the 1990s.
The trend was boosted by formerly major offenders like Indonesia and Brazil now helping to curb deforestation.
The FAO sees tougher legislation as one of the main reasons for the slowdown, with 76 countries having implemented or updated their forest policies since 2000.
Forests cover just over 4 billion hectares of the world’s total land area, and 50 per cent of them can be found in only five countries (Canada, US, Brazil, Russia, China).
But the report also found that South America still had the highest regional level of net deforestation at 4 million hectares a year, followed by Africa with 3.4 million hectares.
The proportion of forest remained relatively stable in North and Central America, while it continued to expand in Europe – although at a slower rate than before.
However the FAO reports also warns that tree planting programmes in China, India and Vietnam, which are accounting for most of the recent gains in forest area, would end by 2020, and that efforts needed to be upheld and new measures put in place.
France had held a summit on preserving woodland two weeks ago. French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said France intended to play a major role in saving the world’s forests thanks to its “expertise in science and forestry”.
The summit aimed to give a boost to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme, whose declared aim is to reduce deforestation in poor countries by half, by 2020.
When there was no agreement on REDD at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen last year, six countries, including the US and France, announced 2.6 billon euros of finance for a mechanism known as REDD+ for 2010-2012.
Deforestation - the facts and figures
About 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year;
Six of the ten countries which have lost the most forest over the last five years are in Africa;
Those ten countries lost 8.2 million hectares;
Logging, combustion and decomposition of trees gives rise to 20 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions – as much as that emitted by cars, lorries, trains, airplanes and boats together.
Deforestation is the major contributor to Indonesia and Brazil becoming the world’s third and fourth CO2 emitters.