Deforestation halved over past decades.

Forests throughout the world are disappearing more slowly than they used to - but, they are still disappearing. That is according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Since 1990, the rate of deforestation worldwide has slowed down more than 50 percent, from an annual net loss of 0.18 percent in the 1990s, to 0.08 percent over the past five years.

While this trend is encouraging, it cannot hide the fact that deforestation continues. The FAO report estimates that 129 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990 - that amounts to an area roughly equivalent to the size of Peru.

“Forests play a fundamental role in combating rural poverty, ensuring food security and providing people with livelihoods,” said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva upon presentation of the report. “They deliver vital environmental services such as clean air and water, the conservation of biodiversity and combating climate change.”

Significant strides have been made when it comes to designating forests as protected areas: Some additional 150 million hectares of forest lands have been granted that status since 1990.

During that same period, forests in areas that were already protected have grown by another 200 million hectares. “The management of forests has improved dramatically over the last 25 years,” said Kenneth MacDicken, who leads the FAO’s global forest resources assessment team.

New vs. old forests

However, a significant portion of the slowdown in deforestation is not due to conservation, but rather to a vast increase of planted forest areas. More than 110 million hectares of new, man-made forest has been created since 1990, and now constitute 7 percent of the world’s forest area.

In other words, large swaths of natural forests are still being cut down - it’s just that more new trees are planted elsewhere than in the past. Environmentalists point out that such “young” forests generally lack all the natural features of ancient forests, such as higher biodiversity.

“The direction of change is positive, but we need to do better,” Graziano da Silva said. “We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if we do not preserve our forests and sustainably use the many resources they offer us.”

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