Facts and figures on Forests

26 April 2012 | Fact sheet

Read the good and the bad news on forest conservation, learn why we need forests to survive and find out some suprising facts and figures from the world of forests.

The good news

  • There are more than 1 billion hectares of lost or degraded forest lands worldwide which could be restored. This may increase to 1.5 billion hectares—almost the size of Russia—if boreal areas and forested protection of waterways and prevention of erosion in croplands are included.
  • IUCN’s latest findings estimate that locally-controlled forestry yields US$130 billion in benefits for the poor each year.
  • The speed at which trees are being cut down worldwide is slowing from 8.3 million hectares a year in 1990-2000 to 5.2 million in the past decade.
  • Rwanda's forest policy has resulted in a 37% increase in forest cover.
  • The ITTO an intergovernmental body that promotes the sustainable use of forest resources has revealed that the area of the world's tropical forests that are under some form of sustainable management has increased 50% since 2005, from 69 million hectares to 183 million hectares.
  • According to the Pew Environment Group, 4.4 million of Canada's 5.5 million square kilometres of boreal forest are intact and of that, two-thirds is poised for permanent protection.
  • Brazil has reduced deforestation by two-thirds in five years through measures such as better enforcing laws against illegal logging, supporting indigenous peoples' land rights and stopping land conversion to cattle pasture and imposing a moratorium on deforestation for soy.
  • Insurance firms and shipping companies are financing a 25-year project to restore forest ecosystems along the Panama Canal. As a result of deforestation, shipping is becoming increasingly disrupted by floods, erratic water supplies and heavy silting. The restoration effort is a win-win for the environment, the economy and local people.
  • The European Union and African states are implementing a huge project to build a ‘green wall’ of trees across the Sahara to push back desertification and secure agriculture and livelihoods in the Sahelo-Saharan zone.
  • France had cleared its forests to well below 10% by the end of the 19th century. Mudslides in mountainous areas caused thousands of deaths, prompting the government to launch massive reforestation projects whilst the State began promoting ‘rational’ forest management. A century later, forest cover is nearing 30% with an annual growth rate of 30,000 hectares. France ranks among Europe’s top timber exporters.
  • In 2008, the Brazilian Government announced the enlargement of a network of protected areas to cover nearly 600,000 square kilometres of the Amazon by 2016. The government has also announced the creation of a US$ 21 billion fund called the Amazon Fund, to pay for projects designed to prevent deforestation, support conservation and sustainable development of the Amazon region.
  • The Billion Tree Campaign launched by UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre in 2006 planted more than 2 billion trees in 18 months, and has reset its goal to 7 billion trees planted.

The bad news

  • About 13 million hectares of forests continue to be lost every year and we're losing about 200 square kilometres of forest each day.
  • Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 17.4% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Around the world, conflicts and wars are taking a toll on forests and on the communities that rely on them for their livelihood. Dense forests can serve as hideouts for insurgent groups or can be a vital source of revenue for warring parties to sustain conflict.
  • To meet growing global energy demand, forest resources are increasingly exploited and forests are clear-cut to pave the way for biofuel crops.
  • Deforestation of closed tropical rainforests could account for the loss of as many as 100 species a day.

Why do we need forests?

  • Forests play an important role in the livelihoods and welfare of a vast number of people in both developed and developing countries; from urban citizens taking a recreational stroll in a nearby forest to isolated hunter-gatherers who live in and off the forest.
  • By absorbing water and holding soil in place, forests reduce the risk of floods and mudslides that result from natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
  • Forests protect watersheds which supply fresh water to rivers—critical sources of drinking water. The cloud forests of La Tigra National Park in Honduras provide more than 40% of the water supply for the capital city, Tegucigalpa and its 850,000 people.
  • More than 1.6 billion people around the world depend to varying degrees on forests for their livelihoods, not just for food but also for fuel, for livestock grazing areas and for medicine.
  • More than 300 million people live in forests.
  • Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.
  • Forests cover 31% of total land area.
  • More than 40% of the world’s oxygen is produced by rainforests.

Did you know?

  • The carbon in forests exceeds the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. Forests and forest soils store more than one trillion tonnes of carbon.
  • In 2004, trade in wood-based forest products accounted for an estimated 3.7% of the world trade in commodities, valued at US$ 327 billion.
  • Global trade in non-wood forest products such as bamboo, mushrooms, game, fruit, medicinal plants, fibre, gums and resins, has recently been estimated at approximately US$ 11 billion per year.
  • More than a quarter of modern medicines, worth an estimated US$ 108 billion a year, originate from tropical forest plants.
  • Areas of forest certified as being under sustainable management have increased significantly over the last 10 years, but still only cover 7.6% of the world’s forests.
  • Afforestation means the planting of trees on land which was never forested; Reforestation means planting of trees on land which was forested before.