Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Can't see the trees for the forest

Forest Loss

"If the net forest loss of all territories between 1990 and 2000 is summed, 31% occured in South America, and 21% was in Asia Pacific. Worldwide, territories with net forest loss lost 1.33 million km2 of forest over this ten year period. Despite this, South America was the region with the largest forested area in the world in 2000. The more forest area there is, the more it is possible to lose.

"Japan is unexceptional, having neither forest loss nor forest growth from 1990 to 2000.

"The area of Africa covered by forest was reduced by 550 000 km2 in the 1990s. This includes the loss of forests that covered 11.4% of Zambian land.

"Indonesia is blessed with some of the most extensive and biologically diverse tropical forests in the world. But the tragedy is that Indonesia has one of the highest rates of tropical forest loss in the world." E.G. Togu Manurung, 2006"

New study confirms continuing forest loss in most countries
Forest cover continues to shrink in most countries around the world, though forest expansion in some countries gives hope that net deforestation may be peaking, according to a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers base their optimistic outlook on a new formula, dubbed "Forest Identity", that measures forest cover based on the volume of timber, biomass and captured carbon within an area, rather than the extent of tree cover. Using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the international team of researchers from the Rockefeller University, the University of Helsinki, and other institutions, found that "growing stock" -- trees large enough to be considered timber -- expanded over during the 1990-2005 in 22 of the world's 50 countries with most forest cover. The study confirmed earlier research that found forest cover is generally expanding in the world's richest countries, while declining in the world's poorest and most biodiverse countries. However, the growth of forests -- especially plantations -- in northern countries and scattered developing countries like China, India, and Vietnam does not offset the net loss of biodiversity and carbon sinks from deforestation in the tropics, especially Brazil and Indonesia.

While Brazil lost an average of 3.1 million hectares of forest per year between 2000 and 2005, primary forest loss was 3.5 million hectares per year. Plantations and growth of secondary forests help offset primary forest loss.

Nevertheless, the researchers say that Earth’s two most populous nations -- China and India -- have reached an equilibrium point in where they do not produce a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions from change in forest cover. Though its old-growth forests continue to be cleared at the seventh highest rate in the world, net forest growth in the United States actually helps mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions. For other counties, including Denmark, France, Switzerland, Portugal, and Scotland, change in forest cover transitioned from negative to positive in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The researchers say the transition is tied to wealth: as a country become richer, it becomes greener. The paper pegs per capita gross domestic product of US$4,600 (roughly equivalent to that of Chile) as the tipping point between deforestation and reforestation.

At the other end of the spectrum, deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia continues to be a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. Globally, deforestation is responsible for around 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions according to the U.N. Some research suggests that as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, trees could absorb greater amounts of carbon into their tissues, producing thicker forests.

Using their new formula, the researchers found that growing stock fell fastest in Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines, and increased fastest in the Ukraine and Spain. In terms of total cubic meters of growing stock, Indonesia and Brazil were the big losers, while the U.S. and China were the big gainers. The researchers noted that biomass and carbon expanded in "about half" the world's most forested countries.

The researchers say that the global "transition to a greater sum of forests" is dependent on Brazil and Indonesia, where 2.8 million hectares and 1.9 million hectares of forests were lost annually between 1990 and 2005.

"The main obstacles to forest transition are fast-growing poor populations who burn wood to cook, sell it for quick cash and clear forest for crops," said study co-author Pekka E. Kauppi, of the University of Helsinki. "Harvesting biomass for fuel also forestalls the restoration of land to nature."

Forest Growth

"The territory with the most forest expansion between 1990 and 2000 was China, which gained 181 000 km2 over the ten year period. China is also the territory with the largest population living there. The forest growth in the United States was the second largest increase, but this was only a fraction of the increase in China, at 39 000 km2.

"Unsurprisingly the most absolute forest growth has occured in the large territories mentioned above. However the biggest increases in forest as a percentage of land area were in smaller territories such as Cape Verde, Liechtenstein and Portugal.

"Worldwide there is net forest loss.

"One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade." Chinese proverb, date unknown

"Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide net forest growth that occured there between 1990 and 2000."


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