Many environmental problems are no longer national or regional in character and must be addressed in a global context. Aggregating information on forest resources by ecological zones organises reporting according to the natural characteristics of the vegetation, rather than along national boundaries, which frequently cut across natural ecosystems. Through reporting by ecological zones, valuable insight is obtained regarding characteristics of forest resources, which may serve to identify and resolve issues of importance to many countries, entire regions or even the planet as a whole.
To achieve meaningful reporting, classes in a global ecological framework must identify and accurately group broad yet relatively homogenous natural formations of forest vegetation. The global classification cannot be overly detailed, which would likely confuse reporting by fragmenting major global ecosystems and risk creating an incomprehensible number of classes. Conversely, an overly simplistic scheme could degrade the utility of the map by representing too few classes of forests and aggregating too wide a variety of forests within the same zone.
While most countries have nationally appropriate means of compiling information according to ecologically meaningful units, the practical tools needed to aggregate and compile forest information by these units at the global level do not presently exist. This is due in part to the fact that, in the past few applications have required analysis and reporting by ecological zones at the global scale. However, global applications of ecological zoning are expected to gain prominence as a result of increases in information needs relating to climate change (Kyoto Protocol) and biodiversity conservation, as well as for FAO’s global assessments.
According to the Kotka III meeting, FRA 2000 was asked to deliver specific information to the world community by ecological zones at the global level, including:
• Area of forest and other wooded lands (year 2000)
• Change in forest and other wooded lands (1990 – 2000)
• Number, area and status of protected areas
• Forest volume and biomass
• Forest fires
In order to fulfil the information requirements for FRA 2000, a spatial ecological zoning database, which is geographically registered and sufficiently reliable at the global scale, is needed. Such a database should also be the product of an international effort carried out under FAO’s guidance, due to the need for broad acceptance of the approach by many countries.