Sustainable Development Goals

Indicator 15.1.1 - Forest area as a percentage of total land area

This indicator measures the proportion of the world's land area that is forested and is expressed as a percentage. Changes in forest area reflect changes in demand for land for other uses and may help in identifying unsustainable practices in the forest and agriculture sectors. The indicator will measure progress towards SDG Target 15.1.

By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.

Forest area as a proportion of total land area, 2000-2020 (percent)

Key results

In 2020 the earth’s land surface is covered with 31.2 percent of forest; this is 100 million hectares of forest cover less than two decades ago

The proportion of forest area of the world’s land area has gradually decreased from 31.9 percent in 2000 (4.2 billion hectares) to 31.5 percent in 2010, then down to 31.2 percent (4.1 billion ha) in 2020. Forest area losses amounted to almost 100 million hectares in the past two decades, however the rate of loss has slightly slowed down within the past ten years.

These global trends result from divergent dynamics of the regions:

  • Asia as well as Europe and Northern America showed an overall increase in forest area from 2000 to 2020, due to afforestation and landscape restoration efforts, as well as natural expansion of forests in those regions. The expansion of forest area however slowed down from 2010 to 2020 compared to the period 2000-2010.
  • On the other hand, large forest area losses were observed in the past twenty years in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly due to the conversion of forest land for agricultural use for crops and grazing. LDCs are particularly affected by forest area losses. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the forest losses decreased in 2010-2020 compared to the previous decade, while an increase was observed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Forests play an important role for livelihoods and the well-being of rural and urban population. They notably contribute to regulating water cycle, mitigating climate change, while they are also home to most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Loss of forests contributes to global warming and has negative effects, in particular, on the livelihoods of the poorest people, on interrelated land uses such as agriculture as well as on wildlife and other environmental services.

The COVID-19 crisis is expected to have negative impacts on forest resources and increase risk of deforestation and associated biodiversity loss. Forests have a key role to play in securing livelihoods for the most vulnerable and in increasing resilience against crisis such as pandemics. Hence, there is a risk of increased pressure on forest cover and environmental integrity if other support measures are not in place.

Maintaining momentum on halting deforestation and forest degradation and on restoring damaged ecosystems will be crucial for improving the climate resilience of ecosystems, avoiding biodiversity losses and enhancing rural livelihoods, especially in the tropics and least developed countries.

This annual update of the indicator 15.1.1 uses the latest data from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, which is based on the best available country data and information to date.

Highlights

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