For 30 years now, the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s vastly polluted oil and gas region, and the rest of the world has lost 178 million hectares of forest.
The global forest area has continued to decrease since 1990. The rate of net forest loss decreased substantially over the period 1990-2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in the forest area in others through afforestation and natural expansion of forests.
Deforestation is, however, the conversion of forest to other land uses, such as agriculture and infrastructure.
The difference between forest area net change and deforestation is that the former is the result of all losses and gains (natural expansion of forest as well as afforestation) and the latter takes into account only the area of forest that has been converted to other land uses.
Africa has the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010-2020, at 3.9 million hectares, followed by South America, at 2.6 million hectares. The highest net gain of forest area in 2010-2020 was found in Asia.
Since 1990 an estimated 420 million ha of forest has been lost worldwide through deforestation, conversion of forest to other land use such as agriculture. However, the rate of forest loss has declined substantially.
In the most recent five-year period (2015-2020), the annual rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares, down from 12 million hectares in 2010-2015 and 16 million hectares in 1990-2000.
Interestingly, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has launched the most comprehensive forestry assessment to date in an innovative and easy-to-use digital format.
The United Nations agency has also launched a Hand-in-Hand geospatial platform with a large and rich set of data on food, agriculture, socioeconomics, and natural resources to help strengthen evidence-based decision-making in the food and agriculture sectors.
Available for public viewing, the Global Forest Resources Assessment report (FRA 2020) and its first-ever online interactive dissemination platform contain detailed regional and global analyses for 236 countries and territories.
Users can consult a comparable and consistent set of more than 60 forest indicators across countries and regions and download the requested data in a non-proprietary digital format.
Monitoring of change over time is also possible in parameters such as forest area, management, ownership and use.
Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo, at the launch says “the wealth of information on the world’s forests is a valuable public good for the global community to help facilitate evidence-based policy formulation, decision-making and sound investments in the forest sector.
“These newly released tools will enable us to better respond to deforestation and forest degradation, prevent biodiversity loss and improve sustainable forest management.”
Millions of people around the world depend on forests for their food security and livelihoods. Protecting forests is also key to conserving natural resources, as they harbour most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity and help mitigate climate change impacts.
According to the recently published the State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) report, forests contain 60,000 different tree species, 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species, and 68 percent of the Earth’s mammal species.
Therefore, it is crucial to turn the tide on deforestation and the loss of biodiversity which can be done by conserving and sustainably managing forests and trees within an integrated landscape approach – addressing forestry and food security challenges together.
Reliable and comprehensive information on forests and other land-uses plays a vital role in this process, FAO says.
In addition, the FRA 2020 data are used by FAO to estimate carbon emissions and removals from forests, by country and at a global level. For instance, the new FRA-based estimates indicate that global emissions from forest loss decreased by about one-third since 1990.
Figures on carbon emissions and removals, based on the FRA data, are made available through the FAO statistics database FAOSTAT.
Forests are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. They have immense potential to support sustainable development pathways.
This platform makes a significant contribution to reporting on the forest-related indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These include the extent of forest resources, forest biomass, forests in protected areas, forest management plans and certifications. The new tools will also provide support for the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The world has a total forest area of 4.06 billion hectares, which is about 31 percent of the total land area. Europe, including Russian Federation, accounts for 25 percent of the world’s forest area, followed by South America (21 percent), North and Central America (19 percent), Africa (16 percent), Asia (15 percent) and Oceania (5 percent).
The area of forest in protected areas has increased by 191 million ha since 1990, and has now reached an estimated 726 million ha (18 percent of the total forest area of reporting countries).
In addition, the area of forest under management plans is increasing in all regions – globally, it has increased by 233 million ha since 2000, reaching slightly over two billion hectares in 2020.
About the Global Forest Resources Top ten countries worldwide for average annual net losses of forest area between 2010 and 2020 are: Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Angola, United Republic of Tanzania, Paraguay, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Mozambique.
Top ten countries for average annual net gains in the forest area in the same period are: China, Australia, India, Chile, Viet Nam, Turkey, United States of America, France, Italy, Romania.
On the FRA key findings, Senior Forestry Officer and FRA Coordinator, Anssi Pekkarinen, said: “While the rate of deforestation decreased substantially during the last decades, it still remains a source of great concern. At the current pace, we risk not meeting the 2030 SDG targets related to sustainable forest management.
‘’We need to step up efforts to halt deforestation in order to unlock the full potential of forests in contributing to sustainable food production, poverty alleviation, food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change while sustaining the production of all the other goods and services they provide.”
FRA provides essential information for understanding the extent of forest resources, their condition, management and uses.
Since FRA 1990, assessments have been published every five years. It is a country-driven process, conducted by FAO at the request of its member states and in close collaboration with hundreds of national and international experts.
With support from the European Union, the government of Norway, Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Global Environment Facility, and in collaboration with FAO member states, the FRA Advisory Group, Collaborative Forest Resources Questionnaire partners and others, FRA will continue to evolve as a dynamic, transparent and continuous reporting process that provides easy access to official up-to-date, high-quality data.
In 2011, FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organisation, FOREST EUROPE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the Observatory of Central African Forests and the countries of the Montréal Process combined to create the Collaborative Forest Resources Questionnaire (CFRQ).
This joint questionnaire was established with the aim of reducing the reporting burden on countries and increasing data consistency across organisations through standardized definitions and the common timing of data collection.
However, the Hand-in-Hand geospatial platform is a crucial tool for all efforts to build back better and create more resilient food systems post-COVID-19.
It boasts over one million geospatial layers and thousands of statistics series with over 4,000 metadata records, bringing together geographic information and statistical data on over ten domains linked to food and agriculture – from food security, crops, soil, land, water, climate, fisheries, livestock to forestry. It also includes information on COVID-19’s impact on food and agriculture.
The data has been sourced from FAO and other leading public data providers across the UN and NGOs, academia, private sector and space agencies. It also incorporates FAOSTAT data on food and agriculture for FAO’s 194 member countries plus 51 territories, from 1961 to the most recent year available.
FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, says “geospatial technologies and agricultural data represent an opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty through more accessible and integrated data-driven solutions. The Geospatial Platform serves as a digital public good to create interactive data maps, analyze trends and identify real-time gaps and opportunities.”
The platform can be used by anyone and its application will, in turn, help data-driven and evidence-based decision-making in food and agriculture.
Amongst its many uses, the platform provides vital information to: Monitor agricultural water productivity, including agricultural systems at risk due to human pressure on land and water; and compare human population density to the distribution of cattle or compare density between two livestock species around the world;
It also ascertains aquatic species distribution; analyse precipitation trends; analyse information from national forest monitoring systems that show the distribution of forest resources with other geospatial data such as the road network.
This allows the separation of undisturbed forest areas that have high conservation value from accessible areas that are more suitable for restoration or production.
FAO’s Chief Economist, Maximo Torero, says “the geospatial platform will allow us to design more targeted agricultural interventions and investment plans through a territorial approach – an approach that fosters equality, inclusion and sustainable food and nutrition security.”
FAO will add new datasets and country- and domain-specific case studies to the platform to improve targeting and tailoring of policy interventions, innovation, finance and investment, and institutional reform in food and agriculture.
The platform is part of FAO’s Hand-in-Hand initiative – an evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative aimed at accelerating agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development to eradicate poverty (SDG1) and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG2), including through the use of the most sophisticated tools available such as advanced geo-spatial modelling and analytics.