Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 3 June 2020

Shrinking forest cover over the last 30 years presents a clear and present danger to biodiversity, a recent review of the state of the world's forests has found, even though the rate of deforestation has slowed in the past five years.

The State of the World's Forests (SOFO) 2020, published jointly by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP), also called for global cooperation to turn the tide of deforestation.

According to the report, it is estimated that around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990 through land-use conversion, although the rate has decreased recently.

In the decade beginning in 2010, the world lost 22 million ha of forest to deforestation, up from the 15 million ha lost in the decade prior. Between 1990 and 2000, some 16 million ha of forest was lost to deforestation.

While up to 93 percent of the world's forests can naturally regenerate, they were not able to keep up with the rate of deforestation, with annual agricultural expansion rising from 8 million ha between 1990 and 2000 to 10 million ha (2000-2010) and 12 million ha (2010-2020) per year.

"This is clearly not a sustainable track we are on. Forests regulate global weather and provide livelihoods to millions of people – we just cannot afford to continue down this road," UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said at the recent virtual launch of the report.

Agricultural expansion was found to be the main driver of deforestation, especially in tropical and subtropical regions, as large-scale commercial agriculture linked to cattle ranching and soybean and palm oil plantations accounted for 40 percent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, followed by local subsistence agriculture (33 percent), urban expansion (10 percent), infrastructure (10 percent) and mining (7 percent).

Even though it is declining, FAO director general Qu Dongyu said the rate of deforestation was still alarming.

"Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity", Qu said during the launch on May 22.

Although forests only cover 31 percent of global land area – equivalent to 4.06 billion ha – they are home to most of the earth's land biodiversity.

They provide habitats for 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of birds and 68 percent of mammals. Around 60 percent of vascular plants are also found in tropical forests.

Some 45 percent of forests are tropical, followed by boreal forests (27 percent), temperate forests (16 percent) and subtropical forests (11 percent).

More than half of the world's forests are found in Brazil, Canada, China, Russia and the United States.

Indonesia, in the meantime, accounts for around 2 percent of total global forest cover, roughly equivalent to 92 million hectares.

The Indonesian government has also claimed that the rate of deforestation has slowed, although official data shows a more complex reality.

According to the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Indonesia lost 493,300 ha of forest in 2017 to 2018, but followed it up with 53,900 ha of replanted forests, trimming the net loss to 439,400 ha.

In the 2018 to 2019 period, Indonesia lost 465,500 ha of forest cover and replanted just 3,100 ha, bringing the net forest cover loss to 462,400 ha.

"Global deforestation has decreased by almost 40 percent, and Indonesia has made an important contribution to that decrease. Indonesia's annual rate of deforestation reached more than 3.5 million ha between 1996 and 2000, but now that has been reduced by 0.44 million ha and will continue to decline in the future," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said during the SOFO virtual launch event.

Siti said the reduction in the rate of deforestation was the result of several measures implemented by the government, including peatland restoration activities, a moratorium on new palm oil plantations and reviews of existing plantations and the timber legality verification system (SVLK) for timber exports.

The government is also set to receive a US$56 million grant from Norway in June this year, as the first payment for Indonesia's successful reduction in deforestation and carbon emissions under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) cooperation scheme.