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Differences between major existing definitions of deforestation from the MA to the Kyoto Protocol under UNFCCC and FAO/FRA (Box 2) are analyzed in Table 3.

Box 2: Definitions of Deforestation

Deforestation is:

Decision 11/CP.7 (UNFCCC, 2001): the direct human-induced conversion of forested land to non-forested land.

FAO 2001: The conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 percent threshold.

Explanatory note:

1. Deforestation implies the long-term or permanent loss of forest cover and implies transformation into another land use. Such a loss can only be caused and maintained by a continued human-induced or natural perturbation.

2. It includes areas of forest converted to agriculture, pasture, water reservoirs and urban areas.

3. The term specifically excludes areas where the trees have been removed as a result of harvesting or logging, and where the forest is expected to regenerate naturally or with the aid of silvicultural measures. Unless logging is followed by the clearing of the remaining logged-over forest for the introduction of alternative land uses, or the maintenance of the clearings through continued disturbance, forests commonly regenerate, although often to a different, secondary condition. In areas of shifting agriculture, forest, forest fallow and agricultural lands appear in a dynamic pattern where deforestation and the return of forest occur frequently in small patches. To simplify reporting of such areas, the net change over a larger area is typically used.

4. Deforestation also includes areas where, for example, the impact of disturbance, over-utilization or changing environmental conditions affects the forest to an extent that it cannot sustain a tree cover above the 10 percent threshold.

Table 3: Parameters for “deforestation”




Transition from forest to non-forest


Land-use change


Crown cover change

< 10 - 30 %

< 10 %

Only directly human-induced


Temporarily non-stocked condition does not constitute deforestation


In both definitions, deforestation consists in a transition from forest, however defined, to non-forest. The term forested land, as used by the MA, is undefined. The Second Expert Consultation on Harmonizing Forest-related Definitions (FAO, 2003) recommended use of the term forest instead.

In contrast to FAO/FRA, the MA considers only a directly human-induced transition from forest to non-forest as deforestation13. All other differences in Table 3 follow the definition of forest and its analysis above.

In both definitions, a temporarily unstocked stage is not considered as deforestation. Only FAO/FRA once suggests a duration14. Analogue to the rules for AI countries under the MA, a means of differentiating deforestation from a temporarily unstocked state would be needed for the process on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries. Differentiation would be less essential if carbon stock changes within the forest are included in an agreement. Defining a maximum spatial assessment unit to assess deforestation might also be necessary, analogous to rules for AI-countries under the MA.

Supporting terms

Appendix I lists potentially relevant terms and definitions related to deforestation: net forest area change, forest area loss, natural expansion of forests, devegetation, disturbance, crown cover

Issues and choices

Beyond the issues related to the definition of forest above, e.g. regarding agroforestry and fallow systems, the following may be considered:

♦ Opting for the MA definition may include net emissions from many agroforests, urban forests and other lands with tree covers exceeding minimum thresholds, such as fruit orchards; the costs of monitoring will increase, efficiency decline;

♦ Opting for the FAO definition which considers predominant land use in addition to crown cover will include only forests as “traditionally” defined; it will raise economic efficiency and allow synergies within assessments;

♦ If the FAO definition of forest is chosen, incidences where only the predominant land use, but not the land-cover falls below the threshold, will often remain undetected. In terms of emissions, however, this will be irrelevant;

♦ Should the focus be on deforestation or on net loss of forest area?

♦ Temporarily unstocked stands represent a dilemma for assessment only if merely outright deforestation, but not carbon stock changes within a forest are considered (see below);

♦ The term avoided deforestation remains to be defined.

13 In the future, FRAs may differentiate between direct human-induced deforestation and long-term loss of tree cover due to other causes (FAO 2003).
14 10 years (FAO, 2000)

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