Progress in forest management in the industrial world is being overwhelmed by accelerating deforestation in the developing world, a global report from the United Nations has revealed.
Many countries in Europe and North America have been able to reverse centuries of deforestation and even, in some cases, increase their forest cover, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). But the global picture is blighted by uncontrolled felling in poorer countries - home to the majority of the world's forests.
The heart of the Bialowieza forest in northeastern Poland. Forests are expanding in several regions of the world but each day sees a net loss equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said. (AFP/Janek Skarzynski)
"Many countries have shown the political will to improve forest management by revising policies and legislation and strengthening forestry institutions," said David Harcharik, FAO's assistant director-general. "Increasing attention is being paid to the conservation of soil, water, biological diversity and other environmental values."
But researchers from the FAO, which releases an annual survey of the world's forests, found that enormous tracts are still disappearing from the developing world. "Countries that are facing the most serious challenges in achieving sustainable forest management are those with the highest rates of poverty and civil conflict," said Mr Harcharik.
Europe currently has the best track record in preserving its forests with some countries showing an increase in their forest cover. In the United States and Canada, meanwhile, forest cover is considered stable. The report's authors found that improved legislation and conservation practices within the industrial world had led to the net loss of forests decreasing over the last decade from 22 million acres to 17 million acres.
Forests in the developing world still suffer from widespread deforestation primarily caused by unregulated slash and burn farming practices and uncontrolled forest fires.
"Deforestation continues at an unacceptable rate," said Wulf Killmann, a forestry expert at the FAO who helped compile the report, adding that the world currently loses approximately 32 million acres of forest cover a year.
Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are currently the regions with the highest losses.
Africa, which accounts for about 16 per cent of the world's forests, lost more than 9 per cent of its trees between 1990 and 2005, the FAO said. In Latin America and the Caribbean, home to nearly half of the world's forests, 0.5 per cent of the forests were lost every year between 2000 and 2005 - up from an annual net rate of 0.46 per cent in the 1990s.
Forest area increased in Asia between 2000 and 2005, although the increase was limited to east Asia, where investment in forest plantations in China offset high rates of deforestation in other areas, the FAO said.
Disappearing forest cover
* Global forest cover amounts to just under four billion hectares, covering about 30 per cent of the world's land area. From 1990 to 2005, the world lost three per cent of its total forest area - 0.2 per cent a year.
* From 2000 to 2005, 57 countries reported a rise in forest area, and 83 reported a drop. Net loss at 7.3 million hectares a year.
* Ten countries account for 80 per cent of the world's primary forests, of which Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Brazil saw the highest losses in primary forest in the five years to 2005.
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