How Much of the World’s Forests Remains?

Introduction:

A UN-sponsored study by the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that between 1990 and 2000 worldwide forest cover increased and deforestation decreased. However, hardly anyone, including the FAO, believes that there are more trees on the ground now than there were ten years ago. In 1990 the FAO defined a forest as any area that had at least 20 percent of the ground covered by trees, but in the year 2000 report anything with at least 10 percent ground cover was called a forest, making comparisons between the two reports meaningless at best. In addition, the FAO report did not make a distinction between plantations and natural forests. Plantations are increasing in area and natural forests have continued to shrink. To say that forest cover is increasing worldwide one has to believe that a palm oil plantation is the same as a forest.

The FAO report can be found at www.fao.org/forestry. The World Resources Institute analysis of that report can be found at www.wri.org/forests/pdf/fra2000.pdf. We spoke with Emily Matthews of WRI about the problems with the FAO report and how we can do this important job better.

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