Humanity stands at a crucial point in its development. Never before have the Earth's ecosystems been so greatly affected by our presence. Large areas of the world's forests, which have served in the subsistence and advancement of humankind, have been converted to other uses or severely degraded. While substantial areas of productive forest remain, there is now widespread recognition that the resource is not infinite, and that its wise and sustainable use is needed for our survival. Forests are also increasingly appreciated for their aesthetic, recreational and spiritual values, which frequently conflict with purely economic objectives.
From the vantage point of the new millennium, we have the opportunity to reflect on the current condition of our planet's resources and to look carefully at the events contributing to the present situation. The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000) provides such a perspective on the world's forests through an appraisal of their state in the year 2000, and changes since the 1980s. The assessment is a key source of factual information on forests for use by national institutions and international fora such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification in seeking solutions to environmental concerns.
FRA 2000 was the most comprehensive and technologically advanced assessment in FAO's 50-year history. It relied on the active participation of partners and member countries around the world. The thematic content is broader than ever before, covering forest area status and change, biological diversity, timber volume and forest biomass, non-wood forest products, trees outside the forest, forest fires and other topical issues. For the first time, comparable trend information on tropical deforestation from two successive assessment periods has been obtained through the use of statistical sampling and satellite remote sensing.
The assessment employed state-of-the-art information management systems, Internet technology and geographic information systems. One tangible benefit from their use has been the ability of FAO to release a large body of information to the general public as soon as it became available. In fact, more information is now available on the FAO Web site than could conceivably be published in the main report. But the assessment was not driven by technology. Instead, the technology was applied selectively as a complement to more conventional data gathering means.
FAO considers FRA 2000 a major achievement. However, its ultimate value will be determined by its ability to motivate the world community to take firm actions that result in the wise and sustainable use of our world's forests. Criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management provide guidance to forest users and managers on what needs to be accomplished. Yet the practical implementation of these principles must be worked out by a relatively diverse group of stakeholders, with different motivations, aspirations and needs. Therefore it is essential that decision-makers be fully involved in the process and exercise leadership in seeking solutions. Their decisions in the coming years will be difficult and the consequences far-reaching.