COMMITTEE ON FORESTRY
Agenda Item 8(b) of the Provisional Agenda
Rome, Italy, 12-16 March 2001
RESULTS OF THE GLOBAL FOREST RESOURCES ASSESSMENT 2000
1. The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000) was the most comprehensive in its fifty year history and for the first time one global definition of forest was agreed upon and used throughout the world. The assessment was a joint endeavour carried out by FAO in co-operation with its member countries and a number of partners. Some of the world's leading forestry experts developed the FRA 2000 agenda at an expert consultation in Kotka, Finland in 1996. In 1997, The FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF IV) approved the consultation's findings and recommended that FAO serve as the lead agency for the assessment, working in partnership with other institutions in its execution. One particularly important partner was the UN Economic Commission for Europe, which served as the focal point for the industrialised temperate and boreal countries. The synthesis of information from both the industrialized and developing countries constitutes the global assessment
2. FRA 2000 compiled and analysed all available information about the extent, composition, protection and utilisation of forests for each country. Special attention was also given to estimating the rate of change of forest resources and to documenting the various factors implicated in these changes. The assessment was conducted as a transparent and highly participatory process, which will publish all background material and analyses. It was the most comprehensive, reliable and authoritative baseline survey of forest resources to date.
3. In addition to the country-specific survey, FRA 2000 included an independent, objective pan-tropical remote sensing survey of forest cover change, a set of global maps of forest cover and ecological zones and special studies concerning the interaction of people and forests. The comprehensive results are already available on the World Wide Web (http://www.fao.org/forestry) and the published version will be available shortly.
4. Reliable information on the extent, condition and changes in forests is essential for the development of sustainable forestry programmes and to identify problem areas where remedial action needs to be taken to forestall resource depletion or degradation. FAO has provided this information at the global and regional levels since 1947 through its periodic assessments conducted at five- to ten-year intervals1. FRA 2000 is the latest of these surveys, covering the period 1990 through 2000.
5. The assessment concluded that the world's forest cover as of 2000 was about 3.9 billion hectares, or about 0.6 ha per capita. The regional distribution of global forests showed that Europe (including the Russian Federation) has 27 percent of the forests; South America, 23 percent; Africa, 17 percent; North and Central America, 14 percent; Asia, 14 percent; and Oceania, 5 percent. Gross deforestation at the global level during the decade is estimated to have taken place at an annual rate of approximately 11.5 million hectares while net global deforestation (gross deforestation less reforestation and afforestation) was approximately 9 million hectares per year. Forest loss in the tropics was attributed largely to conversion of forests to permanent and shifting agriculture and pasture.
6. Reduction in net deforestation (or gain in forest area) in both developing and industrialised countries was mainly due to a significant increase in forest plantations and the succession of forests on abandoned agricultural land. In 2000, plantations covered an estimated area of over 187 million ha, most of which were reported in developing countries. The extent of plantations in industrialised countries is less clear, since many make no distinction between planted and natural forests in their inventories. Additionally, because trees have been planted over long periods of time in these areas, frequently have long rotation periods (up to 100 years) and commonly use naturally occurring species, the distinction between natural and planted stands is not readily discernible.
7. New forest plantations were established globally at the rate of 4.5 million hectares per year, with Asia and South America accounting for more new plantations than the other regions. Of the estimated 187 million ha of plantations, Asia had by far the largest area. In terms of genera composition, Pinus (20 percent) and Eucalyptus (10 percent) remain predominant, although the overall diversity of species planted increased. Of the global forest plantation estate, industrial plantations accounted for 48 percent while non-industrial and unspecified were 26 percent each.
8. The ten countries with largest forest plantation areas were China, 24 percent; India, 18 percent; Russia, 9 percent; USA, 9 percent; Japan, 6 percent; Indonesia, 5 percent; Brazil, 3 percent; Thailand, 3 percent; Ukraine, 2 percent; and Iran, 1 percent; which account for 80 percent of the total forest plantation area. Over 56 percent of the total is in the Asia region. In addition, for the first time, FRA conducted studies on trees outside of forests, including their economic and social significance. While the available information was more descriptive than quantitative, important groundwork was laid for addressing this important emerging issue.
9. Total volume (over bark) and above ground woody biomass were calculated for natural forests in 139 countries, representing 96 percent of the world's natural forest area. The estimates, subject to validation, show the world total is 500 billion m3 of wood, equivalent to 350 billion tons of above ground woody biomass. Almost one-third is located in South America and 18 percent of the world's above ground woody biomass is in Brazil alone. The worldwide standing volume was 126 m3/ha, equivalent to 90 tons per ha. South America had the largest average volume at 172 m3/ha while Oceania had the smallest with 73 m3/ha. South America also has the greatest average biomass per ha, 128 t/ha.
10. Severe forest fires around the world gained international attention during the 1990s. Millions of hectares burned in 1997 and 1998 and smoke blanketed large regions of the Amazon Basin, Central America, Mexico and Southeast Asia, disrupting air and sea navigation and causing serious public health problems. Significant losses of forest vegetation and woody biomass were incurred, resulting in long-term impacts to the environment. Even ecosystems generally not subject to fires, such as the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and the cloud forest of Chiapas in Mexico, sustained considerable damage. Although on a smaller scale, the global wildfire situation in 1999-2000 was again serious. Wildfires were widespread in Indonesia in 1999 and 2000, but not on a scale comparable to 1997-1998. The major wildfires of 2000 occurred in Ethiopia, the eastern Mediterranean and the western United States.
11. Comprehensive global statistics on wildfires required to make a reliable comparison of global occurrence in the 1980s and 1990s do not exist. In fact, millions of hectares of woodlands, as well as some forests, burn unreported each year. However, some general observations can be made. Both decades experienced high annual variability in regional and national wildfire occurrence and impacts. El Nino episodes, such as in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, were the most important climatic factors affecting area burned and fire impacts in both decades. In these years most of tropical Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania experienced extreme wildfire situations. During 1997-1998, the number of fires intentionally set for various purposes, but which escaped control, increased in the equatorial forest regions of Southeast Asia and South America. Many of these fires were originally set for land clearing for agriculture, grazing and infrastructure development. The northern temperate and boreal forest zones experienced some extremely dry years in both decades. Central eastern Asia was affected most severely in 1987, particularly Siberia and northeastern China. The Russian Far East was also severely affected during the 1998 drought.
12. The last decade has seen increased emphasis on achieving sustainable forest management. This approach balances environmental, socio-cultural and economic objectives of management in line with the Forest Principles agreed at UNCED in 1992. This has stimulated legislation and changes in forest policy in many countries. One indicator of political commitment to the concept is the number of countries (149) currently involved in international initiatives to develop and implement criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. On the ground, positive changes occurred in management objectives, management practices and public involvement in planning and forest management.
13. FRA 2000 results for the industrialized countries (accounting for 45 percent of the total forest area in the world, most of it in the temperate and boreal zones) indicated that 88.7 percent of these forests were being managed according to formal or informal management plans. National statistics on forest management were not available from a fairly large number of developing countries, including many of the larger countries in Africa and some key countries in Asia. Nevertheless, preliminary results from developing countries showed that, out of a total forest area of 2 123 million ha, at least 117 million ha, or 5.5 percent, are covered by formal, nationally approved forest management plans covering a period of at least 5 years. However, actual implementation could not be assessed.
14. Non-wood forest products play an important role in the daily life of millions of people. The last decade has witnessed a steep increase in interest and activities concerning these products. There are numerous ongoing projects to promote their use and commercialisation as a means to improve the well being of rural populations and at the same time conserve existing forests. Rural and poor people, in particular, depend on local products for such needs as food, fodder, medicines, gums, resins and construction material.
15. Only a few species producing non-wood forest products are significant at the global level, which is one of the reasons why they were not reported in the global forest products statistics published by FAO. However, when taken as broad categories (medicinal plants, fibre, etc) many have global significance. For the industrialised temperate and boreal countries, some data on quantities and monetary values were available, for example, Christmas trees, cork, mushrooms, truffles, berries, medicinal plants, decorative foliage, game meat, pelts, honey and nuts.
16. Traded non-wood forest products contribute to the fulfilment of daily needs and provide employment as well as income, particularly for rural people and especially women.Internationally traded products, such as bamboo, rattan, cork, gum arabic, aromatic oils and medicinal plants have relatively high value and thus contribute to national economic development. However, the majority of non-wood forest products are used for subsistence and in support of small-scale, home-based enterprises. Despite their real and potential importance, national institutions have generally not undertaken regular monitoring of the resources and evaluation of their socio-economic contribution.
17. Interest in the formal protection of forests, mainly for the conservation of biological diversity, increased considerably during the past decade. For FRA 2000, the IUCN classification for protected areas was used. This scheme has six different categories according to the type of area and the degree of protection afforded. However, the interpretation of the concept of protected areas differs substantially between many countries, making the aggregation of statistics difficult at the global level. For example, some countries argued that virtually all their forests were protected according to IUCN category V as a consequence of general forestry legislation. Biological diversity issues were also evaluated and will be addressed in the final report.
18. FRA 2000 relied on statistics submitted by the countries and a spatial database developed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre to generate statistics on forest protection. Comparison of these two data sources indicated that much work is still needed to harmonise national and international data, and even data coming from different agencies in the same country. Nevertheless, general findings indicated that about ten percent of the world's forests were under some form of formal or legal protection, such as parks and reserves. Regionally, North and Central America have 17 percent of their forests under protection; South America, 16 percent; Africa, 11 percent; Oceania, 10 percent; Asia, 9 percent; and Europe (including the Russian Federation), 5 percent.
19. New global forest cover and ecological maps provided spatial definition to the area statistics of the individual countries and regions. The forest cover map provides a synoptic view of worldwide forest cover. A map by global ecological zones provides an important means of aggregating global information on forests or other natural resources according to their ecological character when used in conjunction with the forest cover map. The forest cover map was developed using coarse resolution satellite imagery while the ecological map was compiled from existing national and regional potential vegetation maps under the guidance of international experts. Each map was based on a computerised geographic information system database, which made it possible to combine them with different spatial and statistical data, permitting new perspectives on the world's forests. Digital versions of the maps were made available through the FRA website.
20. FRA 2000 also conducted a remote sensing survey of tropical forests to assess forest change. This survey used sampling techniques with satellite imagery. The results indicated that the world's tropical forests were lost at a rate of about 8.6 million ha annually in the 1990s, compared to a rate of around 9.2 million ha per year during the previous decade. During the same period, the annual rate of loss of closed forests decreased from 8.0 million ha in the 1980's to 7.1 million ha in the 1990s. While the reduction in deforestation rates between the two decades was likely not significant in itself, the change estimate for the 1990s coincided well with the country specific findings. Analysis of these results and those of specific countries is continuing.
21. The remote sensing survey found that most of the loss of forests was due to their conversion to agriculture, pasture and shifting cultivation. The rates of deforestation were comparable during the two decades. Important products generated through the survey include change-matrixes for the tropics as a whole and for each region. These showed the various forest and land-cover classes and how they changed over the last two decades. This study was the first to provide a consistent methodology for measuring and illustrating forest change between two assessment periods.
22. To support FRA 2000, the Forest Resources Assessment Programme developed a sophisticated information system to archive, analyse and disseminate information using the World Wide Web. Internet technology was used to provide an open forum for dialogue with the member countries and increase transparency in FAO statistics sources and methods. Because of this new methodology, FAO stimulated increased country and public awareness, interaction and involvement in the assessment process. At the end of the assessment the system will be fully incorporated into FAO's regular programme for future maintenance and development.
23. In conclusion, the continued high annual rate of loss of tropical forest cover and outbreak of major wildfires over the past decade, in contrast to increased plantation development, successes in sustainable forest management and increases in protected areas show a complex picture of the past and possible future of the world's forests and mankind's interaction with them. Future global assessments should strive to improve both the accuracy and depth of the information provided by increasing country capacity, developing worldwide assessment standards and encouraging the development of a global forest survey system. Decision-makers must be fully involved in defining future information needs that will address their questions and concerns about the state and rate of change of the world's forests.
1 Article I of FAO's Constitution states " The Organization shall collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture. In this Constitution the term `agriculture' and its derivatives include fisheries, marine products, forestry and primary forest products".