DURBAN (South Africa) • The rate at which the world is losing its forests has halved, but an area of woodland the size of South Africa has still been lost since 1990, a UN report revealed yesterday.
Improvement has been seen around the globe, even in the key tropical rainforests of South America and Africa, according to a surprisingly upbeat Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), which is released every five years
Despite the good news, it points out that since 1990, the world had lost forests covering some 129 million ha - an area the size of South Africa. "Even though, globally, the extent of the world's forest continues to decline... the rate of net forest loss has been cut by over 50 per cent," said the report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The assessment was released at the World Forestry Congress in the South African port city of Durban, which played host to the 14th edition of the conference.
Apart from offering oxygen, fuel and building material, trees store important quantities of carbon, which, if released, contribute to global warming.
In 1990, the world had 4,128 million ha of forest covering 31.6 per cent of the global land area, the forest report said. By this year, this had decreased to 3,999 million ha, covering 30.6 per cent - a net loss of some 129 million ha.
The net annual rate of loss - which takes into account the planting of new forests - has slowed from -0.18 per cent in the 1990s to -0.08 per cent over the last five years. Planted forest areas have increased by more than 110 million ha since 1990 and now accounts for 7 per cent of the world's forest area.
Halting deforestation is a key focus of UN negotiations for a global pact to limit disastrous climate change caused by the emission of greenhouse gases.
The UN talks are designed to secure a deal to be signed by world leaders in Paris in December.
But French President Francois Hollande warned yesterday that there was a risk that the talks in Paris could fail due to a lack of clarity on financing aspects related to the plan.
"There is even a risk of failure. Not all the contributions have arrived... financing does not follow the big announcements," Mr Hollande told a news conference.
He said France would focus over the next three months on ensuring there was US$100 billion (S$142 billion) in place to tackle climate change by 2020.
"It is the key. There is the binding agreement and contributions... but there will not be an agreement if there is no firm commitment on financing," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS