4.2 Forests

Forests  are important for the global climate, for our common future and for hundreds of millions of people who live there.

west mau rainforest kenya 3

West Mau rain forest, Kenya. Photo: Å. Bjørke

The rainforest is one of the world’s oldest ecosystems, in some places over 60 million years. The genetic pool of the life-forms in the world’s forests is to a large extent unmapped.  The rainforest with its wealth of life forms constitutes one of our planet’s largest troves of unimagined possibilities for future generations.

Forests give vital ecosystem services, prevent erosion, hold and rinse freshwater, produce oxygen, food and give shelter to animals and humans.


Tree plantation in Canada. Photo: L. Hislop

Forests cover just over 4 billion hectares, 31 per cent of the world’s total land area. The majority of these are boreal forests found in Russia, the Nordic countries,  Canada and Alaska.

Tropical forest  are found in the Amazon in Latin America,  in the Congo Basin in Africa and parts of South East Asia.

Temperate forests  are found in patches in the United States, Europe and the Asian mid-latitudes.

The rate of forest loss from both deforestation and natural causes is high. The highest rates of tropical forest loss over occurs in South America and Africa.

The USA and Europe have seen some reforestation since the late 1800s. Due to global warming and climate change, droughts, forest fires and insect attacks have exacerbated forest loss.


Sustainable forest management involves the maintenance and enhancement of forest environments, ensuring longevity of forest ecosystems while allowing the best possible environmental, economic, social and cultural opportunities now and into the future. In Canada, the world’s largest exporter of forest products, harvest rates and strict jurisdictions are set to ensure long term ecosystem sustainability, protecting soil and water resources. Photo: L. Hislop

In developing countries the key driving forces  of forest loss are poverty, population growth, international demand for timber and other forest products and insecurity of the rights of local people.

The deforestation and burning of forests have been especially severe in South East Asia


Orangutans and the Economics of Sustainable Forest Management in Sumatra Between 1985 and 2007, 49.3% of all forests on the island were lost. In the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra the figures were 22.7% and 43.4%, respectively. Most forest loss has occurred in the lowlands, the very areas where orangutan density is highest. Author: Riccardo Pravettoni, UNEP/GRID-Arendal

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Chapter 3 3. Impacts
Chapter 4 4. Ecosystems
4.1 Ecosystems and energy flow
4.2 Forests
4.3 Agricultural land
 4.4 Oceans
Chapter 5 5. Green economy