Thursday, March 20, 2014

Global Deforestation/Reforestration and Climate Change

Forests provide priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits yet they are currently being decimated at a rate of 13 million hectares annually. This is about more than habitat loss for animals, plants and insects or even the livelihoods of one quarter of the world's population. Deforestation is also a leading cause of climate change. Forests account for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
According to the "Forest Resources Assessment 2005" by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in 1990 there were 4,077,498 ha of forest cover as of 2005 that number shrunk to 3,953,063. Between 1990 and 2000 we were losing 8,885 ha per year and between 2000 and 2005 we were still losing 7,317 ha per year. From 1990 to 1995, close to one million square kilometers of forest were destroyed, primarily in Russia, South America, and Africa. Each day at least 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest disappear from Earth. At least another 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest are degraded.

Overall, FAO estimates that 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005, an increase since the 1990-2000 period, when around 10.16 million hectares of forest were lost.

While we hear a great deal about reforestation it accounts for only a small percentage of the forests destroyed each year. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) “World Culture Report: 1998," during the period between 1990 - 1995, reforestation accounted for only 11% of the deforestation amount, meaning the world regenerated only a single tree for every ten burned down. 

Total deforestation at the 1990 to 1995 rates eliminated approximately 45-50 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption per year. (This is based on the very general assumption that 2.9 tons of CO2 are absorbed per average hectare of “forest”). Reforestation at the 1990 to 1995 rates added back the capability to absorb just 5.5 million tons per year. It is worth noting that the total output of greenhouse gas production in 2000 was approximately 7 billion tons.

The United States contributed more to reforestation than any other country: it added 29,000 net sq. km. of forest from 1990 to 1995 or 31% of the world’s total reforestation effort. Other leading reforesters were Uzbekistan (11,000 sq. km.), Kazakhstan (10,000 sq. km.), Canada (9,000 sq. km.), and France (8,000 sq. km.). A leading proponent of the “green” movement, Germany, had no net reforestation. The principal five countries along this dimension accounted for 71% of total reforestation.

Among primary forests, annual deforestation rose to 6.26 million hectares from 5.41 million hectares in the same period. On a broader scale, FAO data shows that primary forests are being replaced by less biodiverse plantations and secondary forests. Due to a significant increase in plantation forests, forest cover has generally been expanding in North America, Europe, and China while diminishing in the tropics. Industrial logging, conversion for agriculture (commercial and subsistence), and forest fires—often purposely set by people—are responsible for the bulk of global deforestation today.

Using data provided by the FAO & Mongabay has put together several useful charts.

Here are two:

Click here to see a chart shows net forest losses by country.
Click here for more detailed deforestation figures by country.

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