According to FAO's Forest Resources Assessment 2000, which will be released today during a high-level meeting in Rome, the global rate of deforestation averaged 9 million hectares per year during the 1990s. FAO claims a slowdown of 20 per cent compared with the deforestation rate measured in the first half of the decade.
But the WRI report, Understanding the Forest Resources Assessment 2000, says that FAO's conclusion that global deforestation is slowing down is misleading given the differences in the regional and subregional conditions of the world's forests.
Bruce Cabarle, Director of the Global Forest Programme at WWF-US agrees. "Based on the experience of more than 300 active forest projects in more than 50 countries worldwide, WWF does not believe that deforestation is slowing down", he says. "Rather it has continued at the same or even higher levels than in the 1980s, and that this is a cause for alarm rather than complacency."
Deforestation rates have increased in tropical Africa, remained constant in Central America, and declined only slightly in tropical Asia and South America.
The WRI report also points out that understanding the true rate of deforestation is made more confusing because FAO's "net rate of change" measures the combined change in natural forest area and plantation area. During the 1990s, an average of 3 million hectares of new plantations were planted globally each year, and FAO counts these as offsetting natural forest loss.
If new plantations are excluded from consideration, it appears that natural forests in the tropics are being lost at the rate of nearly 16 million hectares a year, and that more tropical forests were lost in the 1990s than the 1980s.
FAO claims that Forest Resources Assessment 2000, the latest in a series of reports issued every ten years, is the most comprehensive in the organization's 50-year history. It is the leading forest reference for ecologists, climate change scientists, policymakers, and environmental activists.
However, FAO has also admitted that its forest inventory information remains poor. More than half the developing country inventories used by FAO were either more than 10 years old or incomplete. Some developed country inventories also suffer from major methodological inconsistencies.
To solve the continuing problem of poor data, and inconsistent reporting methods, WRI's report suggests that FAO should focus its efforts on collecting a core set of information, and collaborate with a wider range of organizations which can offer high quality information, particularly from satellite images.
"While it is critically important that information on forest extent and rate of change are more accurate, we also need to go further and develop reliable methods to monitor the quality and condition of forests," adds Bruce Cabarle.
For further information:
Bruce Cabarle, WWF-US, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org