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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 15:36 GMT
Deforestation slowing - UN
Logging, Daniel Beltra / Greenpeace / PA
Logging is still continuing at an alarming rate
The speed of global deforestation is showing signs of slowing down because of new planting and natural forest extension, according to new figures.

But the world's forests are still being destroyed at an alarming rate, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, presenting details from a new report.

The numbers measure net loss, taking into account forest growth from new planting and natural expansion.

An average 7.3 million hectares was lost annually over the last five years.

This was down from 8.9 million hectares (22 million acres) a year between 1990 and 2000.

"The deforestation continues at an alarming rate, but thanks to efforts in planting new trees and restoring degraded lands as well as natural [forest] expansion in some regions, the net loss is a little lower," said Mette Loyche Wilkie, co-ordinator of the agency's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005.

Ms Wilkie said that deforestation, mainly the conversion of forests to agricultural land, continued at a rate of about 13 million hectares (32 million acres) per year.

Alarming loss

More than half of the world's forest area is found in the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, US and China combined, the agency said.

Logging in Oregon, AP
Forest is often incapable of recovering on its own
The decrease of forest area was mainly due to deforestation or natural disasters that made the land incapable of regenerating on its own, Ms Wilkie said.

The five-year report, which covered 229 countries, found that forests cover about 30% of the total land area; nearly four billion hectares (9.9 billion acres).

Deforestation was most extensive in South America, where an average of 4.3 million hectares (10.6 million acres) were lost annually over the last five years, followed by Africa with 4 million hectares (9.8 million acres), the Rome-based agency said.

North America and Oceania saw smaller forest losses over the same period, while forest areas in Asia and Europe grew, according to the FAO.

"There's reason to be very optimistic," said Hosny El-Lakany, the agency's assistant director-general for forestry. "Deforestation is going down and, maybe, it will go further down in the future," he said.

A number of different functions of forests make them a crucial component of the Earth's biosphere. They conserve biological diversity, soil and water and also serve as carbon sinks - locking up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The amount of carbon stored in forest biomass alone is about 283 gigatonnes (Gt). The carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50% more than the carbon in the atmosphere.

The full report will be released in January, the agency said.

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