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Publication | 4 May 2022

The State of the World's Forests (SOFO) 2022

Forests harbour most of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. The conservation of the world’s biodiversity is thus utterly dependent on the way in which we interact with and use the world’s forests.

Forests cover 31 percent of the global land area but are not equally distributed around the globe. Almost half the forest area is relatively intact, and more than one-third is primary forest.

Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity.

Agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest fragmentation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity.

The net loss of forest area decreased from 7.8 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 4.7 million hectares per year during 2010 –2020.

The biodiversity of forests varies considerably according to factors such as forest type, geography, climate and soils – in addition to human use.

Progress on preventing the extinction of known threatened species and improving their conservation status has been slow.

All people depend upon forests and their biodiversity, some more than others. Forests provide more than 86 million green jobs and support the livelihoods of many more people. An estimated 880 million people worldwide spend part of their time collecting fuelwood or producing charcoal, many of them women. Human populations tend to be low in areas of low-income countries with high forest cover and high forest biodiversity, but poverty rates in these areas tend to be high. Some 252 million people living in forests and savannahs have incomes of less than USD 1.25 per day.

Feeding humanity and conserving and sustainably using ecosystems are complementary and closely interdependent goals. Forests supply water, mitigate climate change and provide habitats for many pollinators, which are essential for sustainable food production. It is estimated that 75 percent of the world’s leading food crops, representing 35 percent of global food production, benefit from animal pollination for fruit, vegetable or seed production.

Human health and well-being are closely associated with forests. More than 28,000 plant species are currently recorded as being of medicinal use and many of them are found in forest ecosystems.

Solutions that balance conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity are critical – and possible.

Actions to combat deforestation and illegal logging have gathered pace over the past decade – as have international agreements and results-based payments.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 (to protect at least 17 percent of terrestrial area by 2020) has been exceeded for forest ecosystems as a whole. However, protected areas alone are not sufficient to conserve biodiversity.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 7 (by 2020, areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation) has not been met for forests, but the management of the world’s forests is improving. The area of forest under long-term management plans has increased significantly in the past 30 years to an estimated 2.05 billion hectares in 2020, equivalent to 54 percent of the global forest area.

Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ensuring positive outcomes for both biodiversity and people requires a careful balance between conservation goals and demands for resources that support livelihoods. There is an urgent need to ensure that biodiversity conservation be mainstreamed into forest management practices in all forest types. To do so, a realistic balance must be struck between conservation goals and local needs and demands for resources that support livelihoods, food security and human well-being. This requires effective governance; policy alignment between sectors and administrative levels; land-tenure security; respect for the rights and knowledge of local communities and indigenous peoples; and enhanced capacity for monitoring of biodiversity outcomes. It also requires innovative financing modalities.

We need to transform our food systems to halt deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. Adopting agroforestry and sustainable production practices, restoring the productivity of degraded agricultural lands, embracing healthier diets from sustainable food systems and reducing food loss and waste are all actions that urgently need to be scaled up. Agribusinesses must meet their commitments to deforestation-free commodity chains, and companies that have not made zero-deforestation commitments should do so. Commodity investors should adopt business models that are environmentally and socially responsible. These actions will, in many cases, require a revision of current policies – in particular fiscal policies – and regulatory frameworks.

Large-scale forest restoration is needed to meet the SDGs and to prevent, halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.