Global forest area has decreased by 60%, says researchers

The global forest area has decreased by 81.7 million hectares over the past 60 years which has led to the more than 60% decline in global forest area per capita.

Researchers say this loss threatens the future of biodiversity and impacts around 1.6 billion people worldwide in a study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal.

They found that the global forest area lost between 1960 and 2019 is equivalent to an area of more than 10% of the entire of Borneo Island.

The team say that gross forest loss at 437.3 million hectares currently outweighs gross forest gain at 355.6 million hectares.

birds eye photo of forest and mountains

Leader of the study, Ronald C. Estoque from the Center for Biodiversity and Climate Change, Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) in Japan, explained: ‘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.’

Research was based on a global land use dataset examining how forests have changed over space and time, showing the decline in forests combined with an increase in global population has led to a decrease in global forest area per capita by over 60%.

The global forest area per capita has now gone down from 1.4 hectares in 1960 to 0.5 hectares in 2019.

Forest losses were mainly seen in lower-income countries in the tropics and forest gains in higher-income countries in extratropics.

Mr Estoque said: ‘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.

‘Today, monitoring of the world’s forests is an integral part of various global environmental and social initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Climate Agreement and the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

‘ To help achieve the goals of these initiatives, there is a profound need to reverse, or at least flatten, the global net forest loss curve by conserving the world’s remaining forests and restoring and rehabilitating degraded forest landscapes.’

Photo by Paul Summers


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