International Year of Forests Begins - Deforestation Slows But Extent of What's Lost Becomes Clear


photo: Jason/Creative Commons

So according to the UN it's the International Year of Forests (last year it was biodiversity, for those with short memories), which means that in coincidence with the official start of that year there are a number of reports released highlighting the state of the world's forests. There's good news and bad news. First the good news:Asia Overtakes Europe For Forest Expansion
According to the UN FAO's State of the World's Forests report, the rate of forest loss across the planet has slowed as more nations, particularly in Asia, have started planting more trees than they chop down. China, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam have all increased their amount of forest cover, as have Europe and North America. Deforestation in Africa and Latin America continues to outpace any gains in forest cover.

BBC News sums up the relevant stats:

Forests now cover about 40 million sq km--just less than one-third of the Earth's land surface. Although 52,000 sq km were lost per year between 2000 and 2010, that was a marked improvement on the 83,000 sq km annual figure seen during the previous decade. Europe traditionally has been the region with the biggest increase; but now, Asia has overtaken it.


photo: Benjamin Vander Steen/Creative Commons
Don't Miss the Whole Forest For the Carbon Stored in Its Trees
Even with figures of carbon emissions caused by deforestation revised downward (by area), the fact that forest loss is slowing is certainly good news on the climate front. That said, since the UN report doesn't distinguish between mature forest and newly planted plantations, there's some ambiguity here.

But as many environmental campaigners rightly warn, there is much much more worth preserving in forests, and there's probably a better way of talking about them then just in terms of utility value in combatting climate change.

Conservation International head of international policy Olivier Langrand:

Forests must be seen as more than just a group of trees. Forests already play an enormous role in the development of many countries as a source of timber, food, shelter and recreation, and have an even greater potential that needs to be realized in terms of water provision, erosion prevention and carbon sequestration.

As OneWorld UK highlights, the usual suspects suspicious of UN- and business-backed efforts to stop deforestation through carbon market-based programs such as REDD have not missed a beat in taking advantage of the moment.

Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project on why REDD won't work:

First, it is based on an unscientific definition of forests that includes monoculture tree plantations and even genetically engineered trees. Second, REDD does not address the underlying drivers of deforestation, so logging may be curtailed in protected areas, but then pushed to non-protected forests. Third, REDD enables industries in the North to continue polluting, worsening climate chaos and in turn devastating forests. A further problem is that REDD does nothing to reduce toxic impacts on the communities near these polluters.

And here's the less good news:

In 10 Hotspots There's Under 10% of Original Forest Cover Remaining
Conservation International has just released its ranking of the World's 10 Most Threatened Forest Hotspots.

Topping the list are Indo-Burma and New Zealand, with 5% of forest habitat remaining each. Sundaland and the Philippines tie for third with 7% remaining. South America's Atlantic Forest and the mountains of Southwest China each have just 8% of forest cover remaining. Forests in California, East Africa, on Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands, as well as in the Eastern Afromontane region round out the grouping.


The rivers and floodplain wetlands of this hotspot are tremendously important for the conservation of birds, freshwater turtles and fish, including some of the largest freshwater fishes in the world. The Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River are habitats for the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) and the Jullien's golden carp (Probarbus jullieni). Aquatic ecosystems are under intense pressure in many areas of this hotspot. Freshwater floodplain swamps and wetlands are destroyed by draining for wet rice cultivation. Rivers have been dammed to generate electricity, resulting in flooding of sandbars and other habitats that would normally be exposed during the dry season, with severe impacts on nesting bird and turtle species. The conversion of mangroves to shrimp aquaculture ponds, overfishing and the use of destructive fishing technique are also significant problems to the coastal and freshwater ecosystems. Today, only five percent of the original habitat remains. Image and caption from: Conservation International

There's a lot more info backed behind all those links above, and the state of the world's forests and how to preserve them is right up near the top of the critical and complex environmental issues of our time. Having a special year to draw attention to the importance of this issue no doubt has a role to play, but much like how the end of the 2010 Year of Biodiversity saw a slew of reports detailing how little progress is actually being made to preserve the ecosystems we all depend on, somehow I can't help but feel like come December 2011 we'll all be reading about how we're still not doing enough to preserve the forests upon which so much life depends.

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More on Forests:
Carbon Emissions From Deforestation Revised Down
Stopping Deforestation, Greening Agriculture Better Than Carbon Capture & Storage: UNEP
English Forests Under Threat Due to Budget Cuts
Snakes Survive in Fragmented Forests, Birds Don't

Tags: Conservation | Deforestation | United Nations

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