Blue Forest in Snow by Hajime Namiki
F orests cover about 9.4 percent of the earth’s surface and about 30 percent of its land area. But conservationists estimate that 80 percent of the world’s ancient forests – those relatively undisturbed by human activity – have been destroyed or degraded, and that half of that damage has taken place in the last 30 years. The primary causes of deforestation are the clearing of land for agriculture, commercial logging operations, and urban sprawl. Deforestation disrupts the water cycle, reduces soil quality and the land’s capacity to hold groundwater, and increases the risk of landslides.
- The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that deforestation and forest degradation are behind about 17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions because there are fewer trees to absorb them. Another significant impact of deforestation is the loss of habitat for millions of species. (About 70 percent of the world’s land animals and plants live in forests.)
- A UN program called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) aims to solve the problem of deforestation by paying poor countries – with funds provided by developed countries – to leave their forests intact. Norway was the REDD program’s first donor and is its largest. The effort has 29 partner countries, with these 12 receiving payments to preserve their forests: Bolivia, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zambia. The program has its critics. A 2010 report issued by Friends of the Earth International says that REDD will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for some of the world’s largest corporations, including oil and mining companies.
- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has monitored the world’s forests at 5- to 10-year intervals over the last 65 years. According to an October report, 13 million hectares of forest were lost in each of the last 10 years, but the rate of deforestation actually decreased. That’s primarily due to afforestation – the deliberate planting of replacement trees.
- Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and China are the most forested countries, accounting for more than half of the world’s total forest area. There are 10 countries or areas without any forests, and 54 countries in which forests make up less than 10 percent of the total land area.
- Overall, more than one-third of forested land is “primary” forest – consisting of native species, with no visible indications of human activity, and where ecological processes have not been significantly disturbed.