Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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forests > factfile

Shrinking forests
Forests worldwide cover some 3.9 billion hectares � almost a third of the earth's land surface excluding Antarctica and Greenland. Though vast, this wooded area is only half the size of forested land at the dawn of agriculture some 11,000 years ago. ... more

Forest fires
The many causes of forest degradation include overharvesting of industrial wood and fuelwood, overgrazing, insect pests and diseases, storms and air pollution. But in recent years forest fires have been the most visible cause of destruction. ... more

Forest destruction
The world's natural forests are experiencing land use change due to both proximate and underlying causes. Proximate drivers include immediate human land use activities that change forest cover in a local area. Key drivers include agricultural expansion, infrastructure development, wood extraction, climate change, fire and alien invasive species. Underlying causes result from social and institutional processes that may indirectly impact forest cover from a local, national, or international level. Prominent underlying causes include market failure and perverse incentives, corruption, inappropriate state policies and institutional failure, population pressure and poverty. In general, forest related land use changes have complex socio-economic, cultural and political foundations. One cannot assume simple and static cause-effect relationships. ... more

Population pressures
While the world's forests have disappeared faster in the last 100 years than ever before, the same time period also saw human population more than triple in size from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. As a result, the forest-to-people ratio has fallen sharply. This ratio is defined as the area of forest available to each person to supply the broad array of goods and services that forests provide. ... more

Treasures of the forest
The world's forests provide the world with an abundance of invaluable goods and services. Forests absorb carbon dioxide, the main climate-changing gas and produce oxygen. They anchor soils, regulate the water cycle, protect against erosion and provide habitat for millions of species of plants and animals. Take away the trees and intricately linked ecosystems unravel into dust. ... more

Cloud forests
Cloud forests - a type of rainforest - occur on high mountains in the tropics, generally between 2,000 and 3,500 meters, and experience very different environmental conditions. As one ascends in elevation, the hot steamy lowlands are left behind and several distinct vegetation zones occur, including lower montane forest, cloud forest or upper montane forest, and even an alpine zone if the mountain is high enough. ... more

What can be done?
As population grows and per capita consumption of forest products increases, countries must do more to manage forest resources on a sustainable basis. ... more

Global action
Fears about the future of the world's forests have resulted in the creation of a powerful non-governmental movement interested in safeguarding natural old-growth forests around the world. Increasingly, the focus on the protection of biodiversity and the ecological functions of forests is linked to safeguarding the livelihoods of local and indigenous peoples. ... more

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