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News Article

State of the World’s Forests Report 2018

Trees and forests key to a sustainable future, says FAO

Managing forests in a sustainable way, halting deforestation and restoring degraded forests around the world are actions that are urgently required in order to avoid potentially damaging consequences for the planet, according to the latest State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) report published by FAO on 6 July.

FAO completed its first assessment of the world’s forest resources seventy years ago, when the main concern was whether there would be enough timber to meet the global demand.  Now we recognise the greater relevance and contribution of forests, particularly the role they play in food security, renewable energy, drinking water and rural economies.  They provide around 20 percent of income for rural households in developing countries, as well as heating and cooking fuel for one-in-three people worldwide.

“Forests are critical to livelihoods” said FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva.  “Healthy and productive forests are essential to sustainable agriculture and we have proof of the significance of forests and trees for the quality of water, for contributing to the energy needs of the future, and for designing sustainable, healthy cities.”

In September 2015, world leaders agreed to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which is recognised as the core framework for guiding development policies around the world.  This report has sought to document the importance of forests for the 2030 agenda, outlining their role in tackling climate change, securing drinking water and improving urban habitats.

The report summaries the results of the Global Forest Resources Assessment, which had found that “the world’s forest area decreased from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015,” but added that “the pace of loss has slowed in recent years.”  It goes on to suggest that forests are now being managed more sustainably; however, this progress is not evenly distributed.

“This trend has been very uneven across continents.  The rate of forest loss has decreased, indeed, but still with a huge difference between regions,” said Eva Muller, FAO’s Director of the Forestry Policy and Resources Division.

Progress had been made in a number of countries.  North America and Europe had increased their respective forest areas in proportion to their total land from 40.3 percent in 1990 to 41 percent in 2015.  Also, Eastern and South Eastern Asian countries had increased their forests from 28.5 percent to 29.6 percent during the same time frame. According to Muller, regions such as Europe typically relied on a strong tradition of sustainable forest policies, whereas in Asia, China played a major role by “making incredible efforts in reforestation and forest management.”

Other regions saw a reduction in forest coverage, including Sub-Saharan Africa, which declined from 30.6 percent to 27.1 percent and Latin America and the Caribbean, from 51.3 percent to 46.4 percent.  Forests in Northern and Western Africa decreased slightly, from 3.9 percent to 3.8 percent, as well as New Zealand and Australia, which shrank from 17.4 percent to 17 percent.

The report identifies actions that could be taken to increase the contribution of forests, in order to accelerate progress towards the SDG’s. It emphasises the importance of clear legal frameworks that recognise and protect forest tenure rights as well as the potential in transforming the informal sector in order to bring broader social, economic and environmental benefits.

In SOFO, the FAO stresses that, “If sustainable development is to be recognised, initiatives on forests, agriculture, food, land use, rural and national development must synchronise in the future.”

The link between sustainable agriculture and forest conservation were considered to be increasingly important for development, but that increasing agricultural production while simultaneously improving food security was thought to be “one of the greatest challenges of our times.”

The connection between forest management and water supply and the role it plays in progressing towards the SDG’s was also highlighted.  Three-quarters of the world’s accessible freshwater are located in areas covered by forests, although approximately 40 percent of the 230 major watersheds globally lost more than half of their original tree cover.  Despite this however, the FAO reports that the “area of forests managed for soil and water conservation has increased globally over the past 25 years and in 2015 a quarter of forests were managed with soil and/or water conservation as an objective.”

SOFO 2018 was published prior to a High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which began on July 9 in New York and it will be presented at a special event of the United Nations Forum on Forests.

The full State of the World’s Forests report is available for download (as a PDF) on the FAO’s website.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Stephanie Cole
  • Date
  • 11 July 2018
  • Source
  • FAO
  • Subject(s)
  • Economics
  • Environment
  • Forest trees
  • Management