ROME: An area of forest twice the size of Paris disappears every day although the rate of global deforestation has started to slow, according to a United Nations report issued on Tuesday.
“Deforestation continues at an unacceptable rate, however there are signs of potential change,” said Wulf Killmann, a forestry expert at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which published the report.
Destruction of forests has reduced habitat available for wildlife and added to the greenhouse effect because the carbon stored in trees is released into the atmosphere.
Deforestation accounts for 18% of carbon dioxide produced each year, a significant proportion of emissions scientists say are causing global warming which also poses risks to forests via increased fires and spread of pests.
Demand for agricultural land is a significant reason why forests continue to be erased at the rate of 13 million hectares a year. In some countries replanting forests has meant that annual net loss has dropped from 9 million hectares in the 1990s to 7.3 million, according to the “State of the World’s Forests 2007” report.
A huge tree plantation programme in China, more than offsets large-scale deforestation in parts of Asia like Indonesia, to produce a net increase in the amount of forested land in the Asia-Pacific region during the first five years of the decade.
China’s economic boom has driven demand for wood making it adopt a tree planting policy, not only to reduce its reliance on imported timber, but also to protect soil, especially in areas near the Gobi desert, Killmann said.
Forested land in Latin America which is home to the Amazon, fell to less than half of the continent’s area. By 2005, forests were estimated at 47% of the total land, from 51 in 1990. More than half of global deforestation between 2000-05 happened in Africa, underlining the fact that poverty and war were major contributors to forest destruction.
Although economic growth often contributes to illegal logging, the FAO concluded that development was, on the whole, beneficial to forests as wealthier countries were more likely to establish conservation policies. Citing the growth in forests in India and China, it concluded: “Economic development appears to be a necessary condition for deforestation to cease.”