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Part IV: Conclusions and recommendations

Chapter 49. Conclusions
Chapter 50. Process review of FRA 2000
Chapter 51. Recommendations for future assessments

Field sample inventory of forests and forest benefits, Thailand

Chapter 49. Conclusions

FRA 2000 is the latest of the global forest assessments that FAO has carried out at approximately ten-year intervals since 1948. FRA 2000 improved on previous assessments in several ways. It covered more countries and parameters, and it used for the first time a single global definition of forest. The average national inventory year for information used in the assessment was closer to the global reporting year than in previous assessments. More support was given than in the past to country capacity building; and new technologies, such as remote sensing, were extensively used. The reliability of the results is thus believed to be greatly enhanced. Nevertheless there are many gaps in information, and reliability still needs to be improved for future assessments - see the Process review and the Recommendations (Chapters 50 and 51).

In FRA 2000 a uniform definition of forest - 10 percent canopy cover - was used for all regions of the world.[57] This will make comparisons among future assessments more reliable. For this assessment, however, it was necessary to revise the estimates made for the area of temperate and boreal forests in 1990 using the definition and methodology adopted in 2000, since the 1990 estimates were based on a definition of 20 percent forest cover. Details will be documented in a forthcoming FRA Working Paper.

The total estimated global forest area in 2000 was nearly 3.9 billion hectares, of which 95 percent was natural forest and 5 percent was forest plantations.

About 47 percent of the world's forests occur in the tropical zone, 9 percent in the subtropics, 11 percent in the temperate zone and 33 percent in the boreal zone.

The world's natural forests continued to be lost or converted to other land uses at a very high rate. During the 1990s, the total loss of existing natural forests was 16.1 million hectares per year, of which 15.2 million hectares occurred in the tropics (Table 49-1). This means that 4.2 percent of the natural forest area that existed in 1990 was lost by 2000. For the tropics, the loss of existing natural forest was 7.8 percent.

Not all loss of natural forests was deforestation, as 1.5 million hectares of natural forests were converted to forest plantations. Global deforestation thus amounted to 14.6 million hectares per year during the 1990s (Table 49-1), or 3.6 percent for the ten-year period as a whole.

The overall area of forest plantations increased by an average of 3.1 million hectares per year during the 1990s, including the 1.5 million hectares converted from natural forest and 1.6 million hectares of afforestation on land previously under non-forest land use.

Expansion of natural forests, mainly in areas previously under agriculture, occurred at a rate of 3.6 million hectares per year worldwide, including 1 million hectares per year in the tropics. At the global level, natural forests and forest plantations together expanded by 5.2 million hectares per year. The net change in forest area was therefore -14.6 + 5.2 = -9.4 million hectares per year (Table 49-1). The net reduction in forest area was 2.4 percent for the 1990s as a whole.

Although the global rate of change figures for the 1980s and 1990s are not directly comparable because of changes in definitions and methodologies and updated inventory information, it appears that the estimated net loss of forest (i.e. the balance of the loss of forest area by deforestation and the gain through afforestation and natural expansion of forests) was lower in the 1990s than in the 1980s. One major reason is that secondary natural forests have expanded more rapidly in recent years. This expansion may be underestimated, as it is not always captured by national reports and is accounted for by a relatively small number of countries. The general process seems to be that forests return to areas where agriculture is being discontinued (notwithstanding that deforestation in tropical forests remains a serious problem; see below).

The implication is that forest products and services may in the future be provided from secondary forests, perhaps reducing the pressure on primary forests. Further, the biological impact of losses of primary forest formations over time may be alleviated as secondary forests develop into more diverse systems over time.

Table 49-1. Forest area changes 1990-2000 in tropical and non-tropical areas (million ha/year)


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)

































The loss of natural forest area remains at about the same level as reported in previous global assessments (a slight reduction was observed but may not be significant because it is within the margin of error of the estimate). The processes of natural forest loss were studied in the FRA 2000 remote sensing survey (Chapter 46). The survey showed different patterns among regions within the tropics, which may reflect general land use patterns and land use policies. In Latin America, large-scale direct conversion of forests dominates. Direct conversions also dominate in Africa, but on a smaller scale. In Asia, the area of gradual conversions (intensification of shifting agriculture) is equal to the direct conversions from forests to other land uses. At the global level, direct conversions dominate the picture, accounting for about three-quarters of the converted area. Most tropical deforestation is thus a result of rapid, planned or large-scale conversion to other land uses, mainly agriculture. Policies to address deforestation may therefore have more impact if they address the causes and mechanisms of direct and permanent conversion of forests to other land uses.

The influence of population pressure on forest change was emphasized in FRA 1990, partly because it relied on a population-driven model to estimate deforestation. In FRA 2000 the use of this model was abandoned in favour of transparency and to preserve the integrity and representativity of source data in the final results. New studies indicate that links between population density/growth and land conversion are weak and an oversimplification of the situation. Other factors such as the development of the overall economy, urbanization, policies, legislation, culture and tradition may explain a relatively large proportion of the variation in the rate of forest area change among countries.

Further cross-sectoral studies are thus needed to shed light on land use and land use change processes. Studies might include the rights to use forest land under different conditions and the effects of varying levels of capital investments and subsidies in agriculture.


Wood volume, defined as stem volume outside bark excluding branches, was included in FRA 2000 as an indicator of the capability of forests to meet demands for wood-based products. The total wood volume in 2000 was estimated at 386 billion cubic metres, or about 2 percent higher than in 1990, since increases in volume in temperate and boreal forests offset declines in tropical regions.

Above-ground woody biomass, defined as the above-ground woody parts of trees, shrubs and bushes, alive or dead, was estimated as an indicator of stored carbon and of the contribution of forests to climatic stability. It was estimated at 422 billion tonnes (dry), of which 27 percent was in Brazil alone. This measure was about 1.5 percent lower than in 1990 owing to the loss of tropical forests with high biomass content.

Information on volume and biomass was limited, particularly for tropical forests. The need for reliable and comparable measurements of both of these parameters, and in particular of their change over time, will continue to grow. Estimates of wood volume, not only for natural forests but also increasingly for forest plantations and trees outside the forest, will be required at country and regional levels for trend studies, policy development and planning. The need for estimates of woody biomass is related to the possibility of carbon offset payments under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which may be of great future importance as a payment for environmental services provided by the forest sector in many countries.


Forest plantations were estimated to cover 187 million hectares in 2000, of which 62 percent were in Asia. This is a significant increase over the 1995 estimate of 124 million hectares. Globally, the estimated annual rate of successful new planting is about 3 million hectares, with Asia and South America accounting for 89 percent. Globally, half the forest plantation estate is for industrial end-use.

The reported expansion of forest plantations is impressive, but about half of the reported area appeared to be planted on land previously under natural forest. Furthermore, the verified success rate of plantations is low relative to national reports from some countries, and a small number of countries account for most of the expansion. However, taking into account also the expansion of trees outside the forest in many countries, a major and increasing part of wood and fibre supply is likely to come from planted tree resources in the future. For example, although forest plantations accounted for only 5 percent of global forest cover in 2000, it is estimated that they supplied about 35 percent of global roundwood. This figure is expected to increase to 44 percent by 2020. In some countries forest plantation production already contributes most of the industrial wood supply.

In developing countries about one-third of the total plantation estate was primarily grown for woodfuel in 1995. Yet it should be noted that the often underestimated contribution of planted trees on farmland, in villages and homesteads and along roads and waterways, together with other fuelwood sources such as twigs and shrubs, played a large part in explaining why the woodfuel crisis feared in the 1980s in developing countries did not occur.

The results of FRA 2000 tend to support the prediction that plantations will provide an increasingly large part of future wood supply. The need to use natural forests to provide wood should decrease, at least in relative terms, in areas where investments have been and are being made in planted tree resources.

There is increasing interest in development of forest plantations as carbon sinks; however, failure to resolve international debates on legal instruments, mechanisms and monitoring remain constraints.


Trees outside the forest (TOF) represent an important resource which is not included in FRA 2000 definitions of "forest" and "other wooded land". They are often, but not always, planted trees and they include trees in cities, on farms, along roads, and in many other locations which are by definition not part of a forest. TOF make major contribution to the environment and to the social and economic well-being of humankind, including contributions to food security.

FRA 2000 did not attempt a comprehensive global assessment of TOF, nor has such an assessment ever been carried out although many studies have been made of TOF for specific countries or land areas. Given the scale of the goods and services provided by TOF and their almost complete exclusion from policy-making and planning at present, future forest resources assessments should assist countries to assess TOF, thus supporting moves towards a more comprehensive global assessment.


FRA 2000 addressed a number of important indicators of biological diversity such as information on forests by ecological zones, protection status, naturalness, endangered species and aspects related to fragmentation. It is hoped that the information provided in this report will contribute towards a better understanding of the status and trends in forest biological diversity. Two studies carried out within the framework of FRA 2000 were also presented, one addressing the number of forest-occurring ferns, palms, trees, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals by country, and the other examining spatial attributes of forests that define one aspect of "naturalness", applicable at the global level.

The assessment of biological diversity in forests at the global level presents a number of conceptual difficulties which must be resolved for the success of future assessments.


An assessment of trends in management of forest resources highlights the slowly increasing appreciation of the concept of, and need for, sustainable forest management. For example, as of 2000, 149 countries were involved in one or more of the nine ecoregional initiatives to develop and implement criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, although the degree of implementation varies considerably. The area of forests worldwide under formal or informal management plans has apparently increased - another indicator of efforts to improve forest. It was reported that 89 percent of forests in industrialized countries were being managed according to a "formal or informal management plan". Figures for developing countries were far from complete. Nevertheless, preliminary results showed that at least 123 million hectares, or about 6 percent of the total forest area in these countries, were covered by a "formal, nationally approved forest management plan covering a period of at least five years". The difference in definitions of "management plan" make it difficult to compare the two groups.

It must also be kept in mind that the existence of a formal or informal forest management plan does not necessarily signify that forest is sustainably managed. The study did not indicate whether plans were appropriate, being implemented as planned or having the intended effects; thus some areas reported as being covered by a management plan may not be sustainably managed, while other areas, not currently under a formal management plan, may be.

While primarily a marketing tool, certification may also contribute to the promotion of sustainable management of forests. The global area of certified forests had grown to about 80 million hectares by 2000.

The practice of sustainable forest management and the quantity and quality of information on the subject should continue to improve with the growing implementation of criteria and indicators in many countries. If significant improvement is to be made, however, there will have to be continued growth in political awareness of the challenges (possibly catalysed through the high-level sessions of the United Nations Forum on Forests [UNFF]), better sharing of information and experiences, greater capacity building and increased support to effective field programmes in forest management, especially (but not only) in developing countries.


At the global level, the FAO/UNEP-WCMC mapping project indicated that 12 percent of the world's forest area was in one of the IUCN protected area management categories. However, discrepancies between results from the global map analysis and the areas reported by national FRA 2000 correspondents indicated differences in interpretation of the IUCN classification and its implementation in the national context. Continuous improvement of definitions and assessment approaches is highly desirable.

At the global level, the proportion of forests in protected areas estimated in FRA 2000 exceeds 10 percent, a figure that has been suggested as a minimum target for protected forest areas. However, it should be noted that statistics at the global level may not be representative of the protection afforded to forests in different ecological zones or in different countries. It should also be noted that varying levels of protection are included in the six IUCN categories, and that not all legally protected forests are effectively managed.


The widespread physical damage, economic disruption and threat to public health caused by outbreaks of forest wildfires during the past decade have attracted public attention. There has been greater awareness that the cause of these fires frequently lay in the unforeseen effects of public policies developed for land use applications in other sectors than forestry. There has also been greater appreciation of the beneficial biological effects of wildland fires under certain circumstances. Despite increased public attention and unprecedented intersectoral and international cooperation, there is a lack of reliable global data on the extent and impacts of forest wildfires and on the use of fire as a land clearing and vegetation management tool.

The development of integrated land use policies affecting fires and appreciation of the need to use fire as a tool are expected to continue to improve. It is hoped that these advances may have an effect on forest fire outbreaks, but more information must be collected before a reliable evaluation of trends can be made.


From a study on forest area accessible for wood supply or other uses it was estimated that 51 percent of the world's forests are within 10 km of major transportation infrastructure and are potentially accessible for wood supply. This 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 transport) and the lowest accessibility was found in boreal forests (34 percent within 10 km of transport).

Since harvesting is one of the most important management interventions in forests, information regarding wood removals and harvesting was analysed for all major industrialized countries. However, very few tropical countries reported this information. Accordingly, a study was carried out for 43 tropical countries which account for approximately 90 percent of the world's tropical forest resources. The study showed that about 11 million hectares of tropical forests were harvested annually in the 1990s, with harvesting intenstity varying widely, from 1 to 34 m3 per hectare.


Non-wood forest products (NWFP) make a major contribution to food security and sustainable livelihoods. Few countries assess the resource supplying NWFP or monitor their contribution to the national economy, so an accurate global assessment was difficult. FRA 2000 summarized NWFP for which data had been collected and described the most important NWFP in each region, with estimates of economic values where available. Some of the major problems associated with collecting and analysing data on NWFP have been identified; these should be overcome in order to improve future assessments.

NWFP have an important socio-economic role in many countries, both developing and developed, but because of the paucity of information on NWFP they are at present not effectively included in policy dialogue, formulation and implementation. As with trees outside the forest, future forest resources assessments should assist countries in assessing their NWFP resources, thus furthering the move towards a more comprehensive global assessment.

[57] The full definitions of forest and the other parameters measured in FRA 2000 are given in the text of the appropriate chapters.

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