Nature and Biodiversity

These 5 countries are home to more than half the world’s forests

Trees are seen in a forest near Gummersbach, Germany, April 24, 2020, following an unusually warm, dry winter after a summer of record temperatures leaving forests dried out. REUTERS/Stephane Nitschke - UP1EG4O10BN3F

Forests play a vital role in extracting CO2 from the enviroment. Image: REUTERS/Stephane Nitschke

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of the Environment

  • Over half the world’s forests are located in Russia, Brazil, Canada, the US and China.
  • The world has lost an area the size of Libya in woodland since 1990, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • The new data shows that net losses of forest have slowed since the 1990s.
  • Reforestation could reduce carbon emissions by a quarter, according to research.

Trees are the lungs of our planet, the popular saying goes.

They extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, store it to build branches and trunks, and release oxygen in the process.

Have you read?

As scientists and engineers work on technological solutions to capture and store carbon from human activity, our forests store as much as 45% of all carbon on land.

Yet, just when we need more trees to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO) finds that the world has lost 178 million hectares of forest since 1990. That is an area equivalent to the size of Libya.

deforestation forest environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Weather extreme storm hurricane typhoon flooding flood floods danger rain wind windy rainy flash floods Agriculture pollen insects bugs bees honeybees bumblebees farming farms crops crop stable
Annual rate of forest expansion and deforestation, 1990–2020. Image: UN FAO
deforestation forest environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Weather extreme storm hurricane typhoon flooding flood floods danger rain wind windy rainy flash floods Agriculture pollen insects bugs bees honeybees bumblebees farming farms crops crop stable
Global annual forest area net change, by decade, 1990–2020. Image: UN FAO

Net losses of woodland slowing

The good news is that, while still high, the data reflects a decrease in the net loss of forest – the balance between deforestation and the natural expansion or planting of woodlands.

While the UN FAO was recording annual net losses of 7.8 million hectares per year in the 1990s, the rate of woodland lost dropped to 4.7 million hectares over the past decade.

The biggest losses were recorded in Africa and South America, with the latter improving substantially in the past 10 years. Asia was the region to realize the biggest net gains, followed by Europe.

deforestation forest environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Weather extreme storm hurricane typhoon flooding flood floods danger rain wind windy rainy flash floods Agriculture pollen insects bugs bees honeybees bumblebees farming farms crops crop stable
Annual forest area net change, by decade and region, 1990–2020. Image: UN FAO

The world’s woodlands in five countries

More than half (54%) of all global forests are located in just five countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the US and China.

Balancing climate and health benefits with economic needs can be a challenge. Illegal logging and forest clearances for other types of agriculture have seen woodlands suffer in Russia and Brazil, for example. In 2018 alone, Russia lost 5.6 million hectares of tree cover, followed by Brazil with nearly three million. Canada and the US lost around 2.1 million each, and China over half a million.

deforestation forest environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Weather extreme storm hurricane typhoon flooding flood floods danger rain wind windy rainy flash floods Agriculture pollen insects bugs bees honeybees bumblebees farming farms crops crop stable
Top five countries for forest area, 2020 (million ha). Image: UN FAO

With naturally regenerating forests decreasing since 1990 and planted woodlands expanding, initiatives to plant trees – such as the World Economic Forum’s 1t.org – are one way to put the breaks on deforestation.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

An area the size of the US could be reforested globally – particularly in rainforest areas of Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia – the National Geographic has reported. This could reduce carbon emissions by a quarter, according to senior author of the study, Tom Crowther.

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