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Executive summary

The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000) provides a comprehensive and up-to-date view of the world's forest resources at the end of the second millennium. It is the result of the collective efforts of the countries of the world. This major undertaking was based primarily on information provided by the countries, supplemented by state-of-the-art technology to verify and analyse the information and to make the results accessible to the world through the Internet.

The FRA 2000 process emphasized collaboration and transparency. Special efforts were made to transfer technology to, and increase the capability of, countries that lack adequate capacity to assess their own forest resources. Extensive consultations were carried out with experts and partnerships were forged with leading institutions from both developing and industrialized countries.

The information and knowledge provided by countries constitutes the backbone of FRA 2000. Of the 213 countries and areas represented in the assessment, 160 participated actively in the information gathering and analysis. Countries that participated fully in the assessment are perhaps best able to appreciate its importance in supporting the development of policies and programmes aimed at the management, conservation and sustainable development of their forest resources.


FRA 2000 used the following approaches:


Based on guidance from the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Expert Consultation on FRA 2000 (Kotka III), the following parameters were included in the assessment:

The most comprehensive data possible were collected at the country level and summarized by subregion, by region and globally. In some instances, data were not available for all countries. Complementary detailed information on most of the FRA 2000 subjects can be found on the Internet at


In the main report of FRA 2000 the key findings are presented under the following headings:

Forest area

For the definition of forest, FRA 2000 adopted a threshold of 10 percent minimum crown cover. The definition includes both natural forests and forest plantations. It excludes stands of trees established primarily for agricultural production (e.g. fruit tree plantations).

Based on the consensus recommendation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) in 1997, this same definition was used for all countries in FRA 2000. In FRA 1980 and FRA 1990, the 10 percent threshold was used for developing countries, but for the industrialized countries a threshold of 20 percent was used.

Distribution of the world's forests by major ecological zone

Using the FRA 2000 global definition of forests and new baseline information, it was estimated that the world's forest cover at the year 2000 was about 3.9 billion hectares, or approximately 0.6 ha per capita. About 95 percent of the forest cover was in natural forest and 5 percent in forest plantations. Using a combination of new global maps and statistical data, FRA 2000 also estimated the distribution of forest area by ecological zones: 47 percent is in the tropics, 33 percent in the boreal zone, 11 percent in temperate areas and 9 percent in the subtropics.

The uniform application of one forest definition had a significant impact on the global findings for the year 2000. The estimated forest area was 400 million hectares greater than the corresponding global figure reported for 1995; the change in definition particularly influenced the forest area estimates for Australia and the Russian Federation, where large areas of forest have between 10 and 20 percent canopy cover.

Another factor leading to the upward revision of forest cover since FRA 1990 was improved information from more recent national inventories which generated higher area estimates for forests in some countries. In other cases, more detailed breakdown of forest classes in the inventory reports facilitated an improved classification of national results into FRA 2000 global standards.

For comparison with the results of the 1990 assessment, the 1990 area was adjusted to the 2000 definition. Details will be presented in a forthcoming FRA Working Paper.

Changes in forest area 1990-2000

The major components of forest area change are categorized as deforestation, afforestation and natural expansion of forests into previously non-forested areas.

Deforestation is the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 percent threshold.

Afforestation is the establishment of forest plantations in areas not previously in forest, and denotes a change from non-forest to forest. It differs from reforestation, which is the establishment of forests (through planting, seeding or other means) after a temporary loss of the forest cover. Areas under reforestation are classified as forest since the forest is actively regenerating.

Annual gross and net changes in forest area, 1990 to 2000 (million hectares per year)



Increase in forest area

Net change in forest area













Countries and forests with high rates of net forest area change 1990-2000

Natural expansion of forests refers to the expansion of forest through natural succession on to previously non-forested lands, usually abandoned farmland.

After adjustment of the 1990 forest area to the same definition and baseline information used for FRA 2000, the net global change in total forests was calculated as the sum of deforestation (a negative change) and the gain in forest cover due to the establishment of forest plantations (afforestation) and natural expansion of forests on previously unforested lands.

Deforestation in the 1990s was estimated at 14.6 million hectares per year. The figure represents the balance of annual losses of natural forests (estimated at 16.1 million hectares per year or 0.42 percent per year) minus the area of natural forest that was replaced through reforestation with forest plantations (1.5 million hectares per year), since plantations are considered as a type of forest.

Expressed in another way, during the 1990s the world lost 4.2 percent of its natural forests, but it gained 1.8 percent through reforestation (with plantations), afforestation, and the natural expansion of forests, resulting in a net reduction of 2.4 percent over the ten-year period.

The worldwide gain in forest cover totalled 5.2 million hectares per year, the aggregate of afforestation (1.6 million hectares per year) and natural expansion of forests (3.6 million hectares per year).

Thus the net global change in forest area between 1990 and 2000 was estimated as -9.4 million hectares per year: the sum of -14.6 million hectares of deforestation and 5.2 million hectares of gain in forest cover. The global change (-0.22 percent per year) represents an area about the size of Portugal. The estimated net loss of forests for the 1990s as a whole was 94 million hectares - an area larger than Venezuela.

In addition to the analysis of statistical data from countries, which provided the core information, FRA 2000 included a pan-tropical remote sensing based statistical survey which covered 87 percent of the forests in tropical developing countries. This study provided the first consistent methodology for assessing forest change between two assessment periods. The remote sensing survey revealed that the deforestation process in the tropics is dominated by direct conversions of forest to agriculture. Statistical results from the study showed a slight decrease in the rate of forest loss, from 9.2 million hectares per year in the 1980s to 8.6 million hectares per year in the 1990s. However, this difference fell within the margin of error for the estimates.

Statistics from the country studies showed a similar pattern to those of the remote sensing survey, with slight reductions in overall net forest loss between the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, however, the loss of natural forests is still high in the tropics, and increases in plantation establishment and the natural expansion of forests have not been compensating for the losses incurred.

Worldwide changes in forests - gains and losses (million hectares per year), 1990-2000


Natural forest

Forest plantations

Total forest



Net change


Net change

Net change

Deforestation (to other land use)

Conversion to forest plantations

Total loss

Natural expansion

Conversion from natural forest (reforestation)
































Wood volume and biomass

Wood volume and woody biomass levels are important indicators of the potential of forests to provide wood and to sequester carbon. Total standing wood volume (m3) and above-ground woody biomass (tonnes) in forests were estimated for 166 countries, representing 99 percent of the world's forest area. The world total standing volume in the year 2000 was 386 billion cubic metres of wood. The global total above-ground woody biomass was 422 billion tonnes, of which more than one-third was located in South America (with about 27 percent in Brazil alone). The worldwide average above-ground woody biomass in forests was 109 tonnes per hectare. South America had the highest average biomass per hectare at 128 tonnes. Countries with the greatest standing volume per hectare include many in Central America (such as Guatemala with 355 m3 per hectare) and Central Europe (such as Austria with 286 m3 per hectare), the former having high-volume tropical rain forests and the latter having temperate forests that have been managed to achieve high stocking levels.

Forest plantations

Forest plantations are defined as "forest stands established by planting and/or seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation...". Because of their increasing significance as a supply of fibre for wood industries, rubber (Hevea spp.) plantations were included as forest plantations for the first time. Despite the high losses of the world's natural forests at the global level, new forest plantation areas are being established at the reported rate of 4.5 million hectares per year, with Asia and South America accounting for more new plantations than the other regions. About 70 percent of new plantations, or 3.1 million hectares per year, are considered to be successfully established. Of the estimated 187 million hectares of plantations worldwide, Asia had by far the largest area, accounting for 62 percent of the world total. In terms of composition, Pinus (20 percent) and Eucalyptus (10 percent) remain the dominant genera worldwide, although the diversity of species planted was found to be increasing. Industrial plantations (producing wood or fibre for supply to wood processing industries) accounted for 48 percent of the global forest plantation estate and non-industrial plantations (e.g. for provision of fuelwood or soil and water protection) for 26 percent. The purpose of the remaining 26 percent was unspecified.

The extent of plantations in industrialized countries was less clear than in developing countries. Many industrialized countries make no distinction between planted and natural forests in their inventories.

FRA 2000 identified the ten countries with the largest plantation development programmes (as reported by percentage of the global plantation area) as China, 24 percent; India, 18 percent; the Russian Federation, 9 percent; the United States, 9 percent; Japan, 6 percent; Indonesia, 5 percent; Brazil, 3 percent; Thailand, 3 percent; Ukraine, 2 percent and the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1 percent. These countries account for 80 percent of the global forest plantation area.

Trees outside the forest

FRA 2000 was the first of FAO's global assessments that attempted to consider trees outside the forest (TOF) - defined as trees on land not classified as forest or other wooded land. Despite the fact that TOF often play an important role in the livelihoods of the rural population, especially of women, they are often overlooked, both in forest resource assessments and in policy and decision-making processes. The consequent scarcity of information made it impossible to draw conclusions on the resource. Complicating the collection of data was the fact that neither traditional forest inventories nor modern remote sensing technology are very useful for conducting a quantitative assessment of TOF. Most of the information on trees outside the forest is site specific and scattered among different institutions and sectors, including informal sectors. The major contributions of FRA 2000 to expanding knowledge of this resource are case studies and reviews of methodologies that will be useful in future assessments, which will help to raise the awareness of the significance of TOF, especially to the lives of the rural population.

Distribution of forest plantations by region

Biological diversity

FRA 2000 provides information with relevance for a number of indicators of forest biological diversity, principally new maps and detailed descriptions of forest ecological zones that are more comprehensive than those of any previous assessment. New maps of forest cover provide updated knowledge about forest fragmentation and related indicators of forest health and diversity. In addition, studies on endangered forest species and on effects on spatial attributes of forests which may influence biological diversity were carried out in the context of FRA 2000.

Forest management

Initiatives to promote sustainable forest management have stimulated many countries to implement forest management plans. FRA 2000 did not undertake a comprehensive assessment of all indicators of forest management, since most countries have only recently started to assess and monitor criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. It would be advantageous for future global assessments to include more indicators. However, FRA 2000 did ask countries to report on forest areas under management plans. At least 123 million hectares of tropical forests are now reportedly subject to management plans, as are 89 percent of the forests in industrialized countries. However, monitoring is needed to assess implementation of these plans.

Protected forests

At the global level, 12.4 percent of the world's forests were estimated to be in protected areas according to the categories defined by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). This estimate was obtained by overlaying the new FRA 2000 forest cover map and a map of protected areas prepared for FAO by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). The statistics for area of forest under protection obtained through this method were different from, and generally lower than, the areas reported by countries. Clarifying definitions and improving methods for data capture would help future efforts in this area.

Forest fires

FRA 2000 undertook a comprehensive study of forest fires during the 1990s. While statistics were available for fewer than 50 countries (none in Africa) a number of qualitative assessments were carried out on a national basis and published on the FAO Web site. In those countries where long-term data are available, the evidence indicates an increase in wildfires in the 1990-2000 period compared with most of the previous decades in the second half of the twentieth century, although available records and qualitative assessments show that the 1980-1990 period may have been equally severe. The climate phenomenon known as El Niño was implicated as a major contributing factor to the severe forest fires in the 1990s (as well as the 1980s). El Niño provoked severe droughts in generally humid or temperate areas, enhancing the potential for devastating fires.

Fire continued to be used as a major tool for land clearing and as a management tool for pasture and browse improvement in a number of developing countries. These uses need to be considered in statistics related to forest wildfires.

Wood supply

Using a combination of global databases, statistical information and GIS technology, it was estimated that 51 percent of the world's forests are within 10 km of major transportation infrastructure and potentially accessible for wood supply. This proportion increased to 75 percent for forests within 40 km from transportation infrastructure. The highest accessibility was found in subtropical forests (73 percent within 10 km of transportation infrastructure) and the lowest accessibility was found in boreal forests (34 percent within 10 km of transport).

Information on wood removals and harvesting was analysed for all major industrialized countries. Because very few tropical countries reported this information, a special study was carried out for 43 tropical countries which account for approximately 90 percent of the world's tropical forest resources. It was found that timber harvesting occurred at a wide range of intensities, between about 1 and 34 m3 per hectare per year. There was very little evidence of implementation of low-impact logging or other model harvesting practices in the tropics.

Non-wood forest products

In many countries, especially the world's poorest countries, non-wood forest products (NWFP) are a critical component of food security and an important source of income. FRA 2000 represents the most comprehensive assessment of NWFP to date. Data were collected at the national level and validated through a series of subregional workshops. Historically, Asia is the only region where much information has been collected and reflected in national accounts, mainly because of the relatively high level of use of NWFP throughout the region. In Asia NWFP have long been an important part of national and local economies.


Reliance on country information

One of the greatest strengths of FRA 2000 was its reliance on the participation of individual countries, for both supply and analysis of information. It is hoped that this approach will greatly increase the likelihood that the countries will use the information to make and implement effective forest policies, and that demand for forest-related information will lead to further capacity building. While countries firmly support this approach, it has sometimes been criticized on the grounds that country information may be inaccurate or biased. FAO has addressed such concerns related to information quality by the use where possible of primary technical documents as sources of statistical information for the assessment, rather than quoted, subjective or secondary sources. Unfortunately, many countries still lack reliable primary technical information at the national level. This is a potential problem, but it is believed that the strengths of country involvement greatly outweigh the disadvantages. The goal of future assessments will be to further strengthen country capabilities and participation. In this way, FAO intends to improve the information quality as well as to assist developing countries in their inventories.

Remote sensing data compared with national inventories

The potential of remote sensing data to contribute to assessments of changes in forest cover over large land areas was demonstrated by the FRA 2000 pan-tropical remote sensing survey and the global maps. More intensive coverage would have been better than the 10 percent sample used for the pan-tropical survey component of FRA 2000, but resources were lacking to carry out a more intensive survey. In addition, there are limits to the potential of remote sensing for assessing key parameters other than forest area change, and full access to remote sensing technology is out of reach for many developing countries. FAO plans to continue to use country information combined with remote sensing in future assessments, but also to emphasize field observations as a means of gathering broad and representative information.

Change in definitions

As requested by the IPF, FRA 2000 used a new definition of forest which resulted in an upward revision of global forest cover compared with recent assessments. However, the continued use of different definitions in the developing and industrialized countries would have perpetuated the incompatibility in the two sets of estimates. The previously published FRA 1980 and 1990 figures cannot be directly compared to FRA 2000 results. However, the data from the earlier assessments were adjusted to make it possible to estimate area changes between 1990 and 2000. In addition, the remote sensing survey does give compatible change information for the tropics for the periods 1980-1990 and 1990-2000.

Inclusion of forest plantations in forest area

FRA 2000 has included plantations in the statistical estimates for forest area. This is not intended to imply that plantations are equivalent to natural forests. Great care has been taken to keep the statistics for natural and planted forests separate so that readers can draw the conclusions they feel are relevant for their needs.


FRA 2000 aimed to expand the scope of global forest assessments to include new parameters in order to shed light on environmental and social services of forests in addition to traditional measures of forest cover and timber volume. Progress was made in the assessment of a number of parameters, such as biomass, availability for wood production and non-wood forest products; but it was not possible to meet all of the demands. Part IV of the report discusses areas where potential improvements might be made in future assessments. Among the most important are the following.

For the future, any individual, organization or country that develops more reliable or current information is encouraged to contribute it as soon as it is available so that it can be used to strengthen the next global assessment.

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