The continuing destruction of the world's forests, which as recently as a few hundred years ago covered about 45 percent of the Earth's surface, is a big global problem. Cutting down forests adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world's roads. It also wreaks havoc with biodiversity by destroying animal habitats, and causes erosion that contributes to flooding and water pollution.
The latest report on the world's forests from the UN contains both good and bad news on that subject.
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First, the good news. The Food and Agriculture Organization's 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment reports that the rate at which humans are hacking down trees has decreased over the past 25 years, and nations are planting more trees to replace lost wooded areas. Over the last 25 years, the tree cover of the planet's surface has declined only about 1 percent, from 31.6 percent to 30.6 percent.
"Attention paid to sustainable forest management has never been higher," the report concludes. "More land is designated as permanent forest, more measurement, monitoring, reporting, planning and stakeholder involvement is taking place, and the legal framework for sustaining forest management is nearly universal. Larger areas are being designated for conservation of biodiversity at the same time as forests are meeting increasing demand for forest products and services."
Now for the bad news. Even at the reduced rate of deforestation, over the last 25 years, humans have cut down enough trees to cover an area nearly twice the size of the state of Texas, as Washington Post writer Chris Mooney points out.
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And many of the trees being lost are in tropical rainforests, which are particularly crucial to biodiversity.
The report also notes that the global demand for wood is increasing, as population grows, and harvesting trees is now a $600 billion global industry. That has both good and bad implications. The demand could increase incentives for illegal logging, but it also encourages countries to consider wood a renewable resource that must be managed through replanting and regulation.
Another hopeful sign: Here's a 2015 Nature article that cites satellite data to show that we may at last be starting to reverse the loss of green biomass. But whether we can make enough progress to make a significant dent in climate change is still open to question.