Back to search

Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020

Did you know that forests cover nearly 1/3 of land globally?

  • That’s 4.06 billion hectares.
  • In other words, there is around 0.52 ha of forest for every person on the planet.
  • More than half (54 percent) of the world’s forests are in only five countries –the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China.
  • Ninety-three percent of the forest area worldwide is composed of naturally regenerating forests and 7 percent is planted.
  • The area of naturally regenerating forests has decreased since 1990 (at a declining rate of loss), but the area of planted forests has increased by 123 million ha.
  • Plantation forests cover about 131 million ha, which is 3 percent of the global forest area and 45 percent of the total area of planted forests.
  • The highest share of plantation forest is in South America with 99 percent of the total planted-forest area and 2 percent of the total forest area.
  • The lowest share of plantation forest is in Europe, where it represents 6 percent of the planted forest estate and 0.4 percent of the total forest area.
  • Globally, 44 percent of plantation forests are composed mainly of introduced species.
  • The world still has at least 1.11 billion ha of primary forest. Combined, three countries – Brazil, Canada and the Russian Federation – host more than half (61 percent) of the world’s primary forest.
  • The area of primary forest has decreased by 81 million ha since 1990, but the rate of loss more than halved in 2010–2020 compared with the previous decade.

Where is forest being lost and where is it being gained?

  • Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010–2020, at 3.9 million ha.
  • The rate of net forest loss has increased in Africa in each of the three decades since 1990.
  • Annually South America had a net forest loss of 2.6 million ha in 2010–2020.
  • The rate of net forest loss has declined substantially in South America, to about half the rate in 2010–2020 compared with 2000–2010.
  • Asia had the highest net gain of forest area in 2010–2020.
  • Oceania experienced net losses of forest area in the decades 1990–2000 and 2000–2010.

The rate of net forest loss declined from 7.8 million ha per year in the decade 1990–2000 to 5.2 million ha in 2000–2010 and 4.7 million ha per year in 2010–2020. The rate of decline of net forest loss slowed in the most recent decade due to a reduction in the rate of forest expansion.

  • 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.
  • Forests face many disturbances that can adversely affect their health and vitality and reduce their ability to provide a full range of goods and ecosystem services.
  • About 98 million ha of forest were affected by fire in 2015*; this was mainly in the tropical domain, where fire burned about 4 percent of the total forest area in that year. More than two-thirds of the total forest area affected was in Africa and South America.
  • Insects, diseases and severe weather events damaged about 40 million ha of forests in 2015, mainly in the temperate and boreal domains.
  • There is an estimated 726 million ha of forest in protected areas worldwide. The area of forest in protected areas globally has increased by 191 million ha since 1990. South America has the highest share of forests in protected areas, at 31 percent.
  • Most of the forests in Europe have management plans; on the other hand, management plans exist for less than 25 percent of forests in Africa and less than 20 percent in South America.
  • The area of forest under management plans is increasing in all regions – globally, it has increased by 233 million ha since 2000, reaching 2.05 billion ha in 2020.
  • Seventy-three percent of the world’s forests is under public ownership,* 22 percent is privately owned, and the ownership of the remainder is categorized as either ‘unknown’ or ‘other’ (mainly comprising forests where ownership is disputed or in transition).
  • Public ownership is predominant in all world regions and most subregions. Of the regions, Oceania, North and Central America and South America have the highest proportions of private forests.
  • Globally, the share of publicly owned forests has decreased since 1990 and the area of forest under private ownership has increased.
  • An estimated 399 million ha of forest is designated primarily for the protection of soil and water, an increase of 119 million ha since 1990. The rate of increase in the area of forest allocated for this purpose has grown over the entire period but especially in the last ten years.

About ten percent of the world’s forests is allocated for biodiversity conservation

  • Globally, 424 million ha of forest is designated primarily for biodiversity conservation. In total, 111 million ha has been so designated since 1990, of which the largest part was allocated between 2000 and 2010.
  • The rate of increase in the area of forest designated primarily for biodiversity conservation has slowed in the last ten years.

About 30 percent of all forests is used primarily for production

  • Globally, about 1.15 billion ha of forest is managed primarily for the production of wood and non-wood forest products. In addition, 749 million ha is designated for multiple use, which often includes production.
  • Worldwide, the area of forest designated primarily for production has remained relatively stable but the area of multiple-use forest has decreased by about 71 million ha since 1990.

More than 180 million ha of forest is used mainly for social services

  • An area of 186 million ha of forest worldwide is allocated for social services such as recreation, tourism, education research and the conservation of cultural and spiritual sites. The area designated for this forest use has increased at a rate of 186 000 ha per year since 2010.

Further reading on forests; forests education restoring forests and landscapes ; the role of forestry in combating desertification ; Trees, forests and land use in drylands. The first global assessment from UNCCD Library

forests