The world needs to agree bold targets to stop forest loss. The forests have unrecognized potential in furthering the development agenda. To maximize the contribution of the forests to ensure environmental sustainability and to poverty eradication, in the State of the World’s Forests 2011 Report, FAO identifies some of the areas that can enhance or challenge the sustainability of people’s livelihoods. The purpose of this report is to make current, reliable and policy-relevant information widely available to policy-makers, foresters and other natural resource managers, academics, forest industry and civil society. FAO hopes that it will facilitate informed discussion and decision-making with regard to the world’s forest.
To expand and strengthen the need for this debate, the theme of the 2011 International Day for Biological Diversity was “Forest Biodiversity”. The forests catch and store water, stabilize soils, harbor biodiversity and make an important contribution to regulating climate and the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. The State of the World’s Forest Report highlights, while the rate of deforestation and loss of forest from natural causes was still alarmingly high, it was slowing down. It decreased from an estimated 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s to around 13 million hectares per year in the last decade. At the same time, afforestation and natural expansion of forests in some countries and areas reduced the net loss of forest area significantly at the global level. The net change in forest area in the period 2000–2010 was estimated at -5.2 million hectares per year, down from -8.3 million hectares per year in the period 1990–2000. However, most of the loss of forest continued to take place in countries and areas in the tropical regions, while most of the gain took place in the temperate and boreal zones, and in some emerging economies.
The state of forest resources: a regional analysis
In his first chapter, FAO Reporter summarizes the global situation of forests by region:
Although continued forest loss was reported in Africa, the overall trend in net forest loss in the region slowed between 1990 and 2010. The area of planted forests was increasing, in particular in West and North Africa. Some forest planting programmes were established to combat desertification, while others were created in an effort to secure industrial wood and energy sources.
Asia and the Pacific
The extent of forests in Asia and the Pacific has changed over the past two decades. In the 1990s, the region experienced a net forest loss of 0.7 million hectares per year, while in the last decade the forest area increased by an average of 1.4 million hectares per year. The area of primary forests decreased in all Asia and the Pacific subregions, despite the fact that the area designated for conservation of biodiversity increased in the same period. On the other hand, with the exception of the South Asia and Oceania subregions, the area of productive forests declined over the last decade. Falling levels of wood removals were also observed throughout the region, largely as a result of the reduction in woodfuel removals. Employment in the primary production of forest goods was very high in the region when compared with the global total.
Europe contained the largest area of forests compared with other regions, totaling 1 billion hectares. Europe’s forest area continued to grow between 1990 and 2000, although the overall rate of increase slowed during the last decade. The Russian Federation, which contained 80% of Europe’s forest area, showed minimal declines in forest area after 2000. The rate of expansion of planted forest area also decreased in the last decade when compared with global trends.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Forest area declined in Central and South America over the last two decades, with the leading cause of deforestation being the conversion of forest land to agriculture. The region contained over half of the world’s primary forests (57%), which was mostly located in inaccessible areas. The area of forest set aside for biodiversity conservation has increased by about 3 million hectares annually since 2000, with a vast amount of this area located in South America. About 14% of all forest area in the region was designated primarily for production. Wood removals continued to rise with more than half removed for woodfuel. Employment trends in the primary production of forest goods showed an upward swing of 30% in the first few years of the last decade.
The Near East
The Near East region has a small forest area, with 26 countries in the region categorized as low forest cover countries (with less 10% forest cover). Although the region showed a net gain in forest area over the last decade, an analysis further back in time is constrained by changes in assessment methodologies over time in some larger countries in the region. Planted forest area increased by about 14% in the region in the last 20 years, particularly as a result of expansion of these areas in West Asia and North Africa.
North America showed a slight increase in forest area between 1990 and 2010. The planted forest area also increased, and the region showed a relatively stable, positive trend in the level of biomass it contained.
Developing sustainable forest industries
Pulp, paper and wood are the main forest industries products. Although there is no commonly accepted definition of “sustainable forest industry”, the FAO Reporter considers sustainable industries as those that promote improvements in areas such as energy efficiency; lower waste production processes and resource conservation; the use of safe and environmentally compatible materials; safe working conditions; and human resource capacity. According to the Report, to implement this concept some strategies are adopted by the forest industries which, among others, are analyses of competitiveness, strengths and weaknesses in the sector; measures to increase and cover costs for fibre supply; support for research, development and innovation; and development of new products like biofuels, for example. These initiatives have been working together governments that have also strengthened policies and regulations to improve social and environmental performance. The sum of these initiatives is considered as a path toward to a “greener economy”.
Climate change – Mitigation and Adaptation
The State of the World’s Forests highlights the role of forests in climate change adaptation and mitigation. While the report states that reducing emissions from deforestations and forest degradation (REDD+) could safeguard livelihoods, it also warns that the long term sustainability of REDD+ activities will depend on effective forest governance and secure land and carbon tenure rights. The Report highlights successful pilot REDD+ cases in Asia and the Pacific that have the potential to be replicated in other countries and the necessity of more work to consider the role of forests in adaptation in climate change policies and actions.
The local value of forests
The FAO Reporter considers the need to strengthen the discussion about traditional knowledge. The Community-based forest management, small and medium forest enterprises and the non-cash value of forests are explored. According to the Reporter, traditional knowledge contributes to local incomes, typically through the use of commercialized products. But, while there is some protection of traditional knowledge in the Convention of Biodiversity, further awareness and integration of traditional knowledge into policies is needed, particularly as REDD activities take shape. There are conflicts that need to be minimized and the drivers of community-based forest management include decentralization, enabling policy frameworks, national poverty reduction agendas, rural development and emerging grassroots and global networks. These strategies can be seen over the long term and can lead to greater participation, reduced poverty, increased productivity and diversity of vegetation, and the protection of forest species.
In short, one of the key messages of State of the World’s Forests 2011 is the need to establish good forest governance that has the political, legal, institutional and regulatory frameworks, in conjunction with planning, implementation and compliance acting responsibly and effectively, with fairness, transparency and participation of different stakeholders.
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