FAO satellite-based survey shows world loses 72.9m hectares of forest land in 15 years
A new satellite-based survey released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) November 30, 2011 revealed that the net loss of forest land between 1990 and 2005 was 72.9 million hectares, 32% less than the previous figure of 107.4 million hectares.
According to the survey, the planet lost an average of 4.9 million hectares of forest per year, or nearly 10 hectares of forest per minute over the 15-year period contrary to a finding of a global remote sensing survey suggesting that the rate of world deforestation averaged 14.5 million hectares per year between 1990 and 2005.
“On the other hand, the satellite survey shows that worldwide, the net loss in forest area between 1990 and 2005 was not as great as previously believed, since gains in forest areas are larger than previously estimated,” the FAO said.
“Net loss — in which losses of forest cover are partially offset by afforestation or natural expansion — totalled 72.9 million hectares, or 32 percent less than the previous figure of 107.4 million hectares,” the survey noted.
According to the FAO, the remote sensing survey was based on a single source of data for all three points in time — 1990, 2000 and 2005 — and the same input data and methodology were used for all countries and the new satellite-based figures give a more consistent, global picture, over time, of the world’s forests together with the broad range of information supplied by country reports.
“The figures are based on the most comprehensive use yet of high-resolution satellite data to provide a sample of forests worldwide. They differ from previous FAO findings in the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 (FRA 2010), which were based on a compilation of country reports that used a wide variety of sources,” it said.
The new data, the UN agency said also shows that the net loss of forests increased from 4.1 million hectares per year between 1990 and 2000 to 6.4 million hectares between 2000 and 2005.
“Deforestation is depriving millions of people of forest goods and services that are crucial to rural livelihoods, economic well-being and environmental health,” said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry.
“The new, satellite-based figures give us a more consistent, global picture, over time, of the world’s forests. Together with the broad range of information supplied by the country reports, they offer decision-makers at every level more accurate information, and underscore the need for countries and organizations to urgently address and halt the loss of valuable forest ecosystems,” Rojas-Briales added.
On regional losses and gains of forest lands, the FAO indicated that there were notable differences in forest losses and gains.
“Between 1990 and 2005 the loss of forests was highest in the tropics, where just under half of the world’s forests are located. Net losses in this region averaged 6.9 million ha/yr between 1990 and 2005. The highest rate of conversion of forest land use to other, unspecified, land uses for both periods was in South America, followed by Africa,” it said with Asia being the only region to show net gains in forest land-use area in both periods.
The survey observed that deforestation occurred in all regions, including Asia, but the extensive planting that has been reported by several countries in Asia (mainly China) exceeded the forest areas that were lost.
Slight net increases in forest area were registered in subtropical, temperate and boreal zones over the full 15 year period, it indicated.
By Ekow Quandzie