Despite the importance of the world's humid tropical forests, our knowledge concerning their rates of change remains limited. Two recent programmes (FAO 2000 Forest Resources Assessment and TREES II), exploiting the global imaging capabilities of Earth observing satellites, have recently been completed to provide information on the dynamics of tropical forest cover. The results from these independent studies show a high degree of conformity and provide a good understanding of trends at the pan-tropical level.
In 1990 there were some 1150 million ha of tropical rain forest with the area of the humid tropics deforested annually estimated at 5.8 million ha (approximately twice the size of Belgium). A further 2.3 million ha of humid forest is apparently degraded annually through fragmentation, logging and/or fires. In the sub-humid and dry tropics, annual deforestation of tropical moist deciduous and tropical dry forests comes to 2.2 and 0.7 million ha, respectively. Southeast Asia is the region where forests are under the highest pressure with an annual change rate of −0.8 to −0.9%. The annual area deforested in Latin America is large, but the relative rate (−0.4 to −0.5%) is lower, owing to the vast area covered by the remaining Amazonian forests. The humid forests of Africa are being converted at a similar rate to those of Latin America (−0.4 to −0.5% per year).
During this period, secondary forests have also been established, through re-growth on abandoned land and forest plantations, but with different ecological, biophysical and economic characteristics compared with primary forests. These trends are significant in all regions, but the extent of new forest cover has proven difficult to establish.
These results, as well as the lack of more detailed knowledge, clearly demonstrate the need to improve sound scientific evidence to support policy. The two projects provide useful guidance for future monitoring efforts in the context of multilateral environmental agreements and of international aid, trade and development partnerships. Methodologically, the use of high-resolution remote sensing in representative samples has been shown to be cost-effective. Close collaboration between tropical institutions and inter-governmental organizations proved to be a fruitful arrangement in the different projects. To properly assist decision-making, monitoring and assessments should primarily be addressed at the national level, which also corresponds to the ratification level of the multilateral environmental agreements. The Forest Resources Assessment 2000 deforestation statistics from countries are consistent with the satellite-based estimates in Asia and America, but are significantly different in Africa, highlighting the particular need for long-term capacity-building activities in this continent.
One contribution of 19 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Beyond extinction rates: monitoring wild nature for the 2010 target’.
- © 2005 The Royal Society