Global Forest Resources Assessments

Forest Futures

Forest Futures combines the projected global needs for food, feed and wood to envision their impact on forest resources and identify where competition for land will likely take place in the future. Its objective is to improve our understanding of causes of forest area change in order to provide an informed vision of the forests’ future(s) to help formulate and implement more effective strategies.

The world’s population is growing rapidly: the UN predicts a 30% population increase to 9 billion people by 20501. Per capita consumption is increasing as well, especially in fast-growing economies, resulting in an unprecedented demand for resources. FAO envisions agricultural production to increase with 60% by 20502, though most of this increased production will come from yield increases rather than arable land expansion according to FAO. In April 2013, the FRA network shared their opinions and visions concerning major trends affecting global forest resources through an online survey. Crop land expansion is most often mentioned as the largest driver of forest loss. Though the expectation of the respondents is that the drivers of deforestation in 2050 will be quite similar to those of today some interesting dynamics are expected; mostly cropland expansion and fuelwood extraction (mostly in Africa) are becoming less important while infrastructure and climate change (notably in arid zones) are expected to contribute more to forest loss in 2050.

Figure 1. Vision on the changing importance of drivers of deforestation from the FRA network of experts

FAO has a long history of future studies in forestry through its regional and global forest sector outlook studies. Forest Futures differs from these studies focusing on forest land dynamics rather than economic demand for forest products. Forest Futures builds on existing models using country reported data and authoritative spatially explicit global databases (e.g. FRA, FAOSTAT, GAEZ). The existing models project the global expansion of arable land and the economic demand for wood. The models are based on an analysis of historical trends and external projections on GDP, population, technological changes and energy.

Future is referred to as a plural in Forest Futures since we explore different scenarios or storylines on how the future might unfold. Scenarios are plausible stories, based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key relationships and driving forces. Forest Futures will explore a range of scenarios for global forest resources to help identify emerging opportunities and challenges for sustainable forest management.

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1. United Nations (2011), World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision
2. Alexandratos N and J Bruinsma (2012) World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision. ESA Working paper 12-03. Rome, FAO.

A full description of the Forest Futures methodology can be accessed here: