Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020

Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has brought out the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020.


  • FRA is the mechanism for collecting data on two forest-related indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 2015.
  • Speci­cally, data submitted to FRA contribute to reporting on SDG indicator 15.1.1 (forest area as a proportion of total land area in 2015) and indicator 15.2.1 (progress towards sustainable forest management).

Forests cover nearly one-third of the land globally

  • The world has a total forest area of 4.06 billion hectares (ha), which is 31 per cent of the total land area.
  • This area is equivalent to 0.52 ha per person  – although forests are not distributed equally among the world’s peoples or geographically.
  • More than half (54 per cent) of the world’s forests is in only five countries – the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China.

The world’s forest area is decreasing, but the rate of loss has slowed

  • The world has lost 178 million ha of forest since 1990, which is an area about the size of Libya.
  • The rate of net forest loss decreased substantially over the period 1990–2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in forest area in others through afforestation and the natural expansion of forests.
  • The rate of decline of net forest loss slowed in the most recent decade due to a reduction in the rate of forest expansion.

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What is Deforestation?

FAO defines deforestation as the conversion of forest to other land uses (regardless of whether it is human-induced). “Deforestation” and “forest area net change” are not the same: the latter is the sum of all forest losses (deforestation) and all forest gains (forest expansion) in a given period.

Net change, therefore, can be positive or negative, depending on whether gains exceed losses, or vice versa.

Africa has the highest net loss of forest area

  • Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010–2020, at 3.9 million ha, followed by South America, at 2.6 million ha.
  • The rate of net forest loss has increased in Africa in each of the three decades since 1990. It has declined substantially in South America, however, to about half the rate in 2010–2020 compared with 2000–2010.
  • Asia had the highest net gain of forest area in 2010–2020, followed by Oceania and Europe.
  • Nevertheless, both Europe and Asia recorded substantially lower rates of net gain in 2010–2020 than in 2000–2010.

Deforestation continues, but at a lower rate

  • An estimated 420 million ha of forest has been lost worldwide through deforestation since 1990, but the rate of forest loss has declined substantially.
  • In the most recent five-year period (2015–2020), the annual rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million ha, down from 12 million ha in 2010–2015.

Other Findings

  • The world still has at least 1.11 billion ha of primary forest – that is, forests composed of native species in which there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes have not been significantly disturbed.
  • Combined, three countries – Brazil, Canada and the Russian Federation – host more than half (61 percent) of the world’s primary forest.
  • There is an estimated 726 million ha of forest in protected areas worldwide. Of the six major world regions, South America has the highest share of forests in protected areas, at 31 percent.
  • The highest share of plantation forest is in South America, where this forest type represents 99 per cent of the total planted-forest area and 2 per cent of the total forest area.
  • Seventy-three per cent of the world’s forests is under public ownership, 22 per cent is privately owned, and the ownership of the remainder is categorized as either “unknown” or “other” (the latter mainly comprising forests where ownership is disputed or in transition).
  • The total carbon stock in forests decreased from 668 gigatonnes in 1990 to 662 gigatonnes in 2020; carbon density increased slightly over the same period, from 159 tonnes to 163 tonnes per ha.
  • Globally, 424 million ha of forest is designated primarily for biodiversity conservation.
Remember This
  • India has ranked third among the top 10 countries that have gained in forest areas in the last decade.
  • The top 10 countries that have recorded the maximum average annual net gains in forest area during 2010-2020 are China, Australia, India, Chile, Vietnam, Turkey, the United States, France, Italy and Romania, according to the FRA 2020. India accounts for two per cent of total global forest area.