Key facts about the world's forests

What you need to know about the world’s forests, their importance to the environment, and how they are being affected by humans.
As one of the twelve megadiverse countries in the world, Mexico hosts about half of all animal and .../ Credits: Reuters

01. The total forest area of the world is just below 4 billion hectares, covering about 31% of Earth’s land surface. Russia contains the largest forested area, followed by Brazil, Canada, and the United States. Tropical rainforests cover an area larger than Europe.

02. Close to 1.6 billion people (more than 25% of the world's population) depend on forests to some extent. Between 300 and 350 million people live within or close to dense forest and rely almost entirely on the forest for their subsistence and survival. A further 150 million people live outside forests but are still dependent on them. A third of the world’s people use biomass fuels, mainly firewood, for cooking and heating.

03. Rainforests cover less than 2% of all the land worldwide but produce 40% of the world’s oxygen and house half of life on earth. Over 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity is thought to be in rainforests. The Amazon is the richest biodiversity hotspot in the world, holding about a quarter of land species.

04. Mature forests absorb around a ton of CO2 per hectare per year from the atmosphere, equivalent to the exhaust from over 110 gallons of gasoline. Due to the depth of peat, one hectare of tropical peat forest can store 3000 to 6000 tons of carbon per hectare. Deforestation and forest degradation releases about 1.7 billion tons of carbon annually, between 10% and 30% of global carbon emissions. In 2013, the IPCC estimated that total emissions from deforestation were about 10% of the total man-made CO2 emissions.

05. More than a quarter of modern medicines originate from tropical forest plants and healthcare benefits from forest plants is valued at $108 billion a year. Tropical forests also provide ecosystem services like pollination to agriculture valued at $12 billion per year. They can also help prevent infectious disease spreading. Deforested areas can see a 300-fold increase in the risk of malaria infection.

06. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Earth’s forested area has shrunk from 50 million square kilometers to 40 million square kilometers. In the last 50 years, the Amazon has lost at least 17% of its forest cover and Sumatra has lost 85% of its forest (mainly to palm oil plantations). Between 1990 and 2011 the largest forest losses have been in Latin America and the Caribbean (which lost 11% of its forests) and sub-Saharan Africa. Drought and forest fires have contributed to large losses in Australia.

07. The rate of deforestation is slowing, particularly in Brazil and Indonesia. In Brazil there has been a 75% reduction in the rate of deforestation since 2005 due to increased monitoring, enforcement and public pressure. By 2012, over 20% of land in Latin America and the Caribbean was protected, which is more than in any other region in the world.

08. Forests protect land from soil erosion and desertification. They help maintain nutrients in the soil and protect watersheds and freshwater supplies. The European Union and the African Union are building a ‘green wall’ of trees across the Sahara to prevent desertification and protect agriculture.

09. The biggest causes of deforestation and forest degradation are ranching and agriculture, road and urban infrastructure development, commercial logging, mining, subsistence farming and firewood collection, and use of wood and other biomass as a biofuel. Many of these factors are driven by increasing populations.

10. According to WWF, 15% to 30% of the global wood trade is from illegal logging. The global trade in primary wood products is worth $235 billion with the US the world’s biggest supplier, with nearly 20% of the world market. The EU was expected to consume 17.1 million metric tons of wood pellets in 2014.

11. To halve emissions from the forest sector by 2030 through carbon markets would cost between $17 billion and $33 billion a year, according to the Eliasch Review. The EU reckons that it would cost €15 billion to €25 billion every year to halve deforestation by 2020.

Sources: Centre for International Forestry Research, Global Canopy Programme, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), The World Bank, WWF, Eliasch Review, IPCC, World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development, World Rainforest Movement, The Nature Conservancy, Global Forest Coalition, Biomass Magazine

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Comments (1)

DEEKSHA BENIWAL: 26.04.2010, 01:59

this text is full of true facts and is very useful. I found it very interesting and shocking

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