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News Article

Global forest cover per capita declines by 60%

New study reports a loss of 81.7 million hectares of global forest between 1960-2019

Over the past 60 years, global forest area has declined by 81.7 million hectares, equivalent to more than 60% loss of global forest area per capita.  This loss threatens the future of biodiversity and impacts the lives of 1.6 billion people worldwide, according to a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.

Forest ecosystems are critical habitats for biodiversity and they offer a number of ecosystem services. In addition to providing us with food, fibre and fuel, forests clean the air, filter water and control floods and erosion.  However, over the last 8000 years, nearly half the world’s forests have been lost, primarily due to human activities. 

The research team, led by led by Ronald C. Estoque from the Center for Biodiversity and Climate Change, Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) in Japan, found that the global forest area had declined by nearly 82 million hectares between 1960-2019, with gross forest loss (437.3 million hectares) outweighing gross forest gain (355.6 million hectares).  To put it into perspective, this forest loss is equivalent to an area of >10% of the entire Island of Borneo.

During the study, the team examined how global forests had changed both spatially and temporally, by using global land use datasets.  They noted that the decline in forests, combined with the increase in global population over the 60-year study period had led to a decrease of global forest area per capita from 1.4 hectares in 1960 to 0.5 hectares in 2019.

In the paper, the study authors explain that "the continuous loss and degradation of forests affect the integrity of forest ecosystems, reducing their ability to generate and provide essential services and sustain biodiversity. It also impacts the lives of at least 1.6 billion people worldwide, predominantly in developing countries, who depend on forests for various purposes."

Their study results also show that the change in the spatiotemporal pattern of global forests supports the forest transition theory (the changes a forest landscape, region or even country, experiences when its forest cover stops shrinking, due to deforestation and starts expanding, due to reforestation or afforestation).  It found that forest losses occured primarily in the lower-income countries in the tropics and forest gains in the higher-income extratropics.  Estoque explains that

"despite this spatial pattern of forest loss occurring primarily in the less developed countries, the role of more developed nations in this said forest loss also needs to be studied more deeply. With the strengthening of forest conservation in more developed countries, forest loss is displaced to the less developed countries, especially in the tropics."

Monitoring the world's forests forms an integral part of a number of global environmental and social initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Climate Agreement and the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. In order to achieve the goals of these initiatives, there is a critical need to reduce and reverse the global net forest loss curve by protecting the world's remaining forests and restoring and rehabilitating degraded forest landscapes.

Journal Reference

Ronald C Estoque, Rajarshi Dasgupta, Karina Winkler, Valerio Avitabile, Brian A Johnson, Soe W Myint, Yan Gao, Makoto Ooba, Yuji Murayama, Rodel D Lasco. Spatiotemporal pattern of global forest change over the past 60 years and the forest transition theoryEnvironmental Research Letters, 2022; 17 (8): 084022 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac7df5

Subscribers to Forest Science can find further papers on forest loss and biodiversity on the database.  For example, using the searchstring (deforestation OR "forest fragmentation") AND (biodiversity OR "ecosystem services" OR "species richness" OR "species diversity").    A selection of these is listed in the further reading section below.

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