Global Forest Survey Aims to Stem Deforestation

ROME, Italy, July 16, 2008 (ENS) – A global remote sensing survey of the Earth’s forests is being conducted by the United Nations to enhance knowledge of land use change, including deforestation, reforestation and the natural expansion of forests.

The assessment will cover the whole land surface of the Earth with about 9,000 samples, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, which will act as lead agency for the project.

“Deforestation continues at an alarming rate of about 13 million hectares annually at the global level,” said Jan Heino, FAO assistant director-general for forestry, who will coordinate the survey.

That area of forest loss amounts to 50,193 square miles a year, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Greece.

Deforestation in Wales. (Photo
by Piers Barber)

Global concern has been growing over deforestation, loss of carbon stored in forests and the role of forests in climate change, giving rise to increased interest in monitoring to protect forests and to track emissions from deforestation.

“The need to improve national forest monitoring is overwhelming, as the demand for information has never been greater,” Heino said. “National policy processes are striving to address cross-cutting issues such as poverty alleviation and food security related to forests.”

The FAO and its partners will use the results of the survey in the next Global Forest Resources Assessment to be released in 2010.

This comprehensive data collection on the state of the world’s forests is intended to strengthen the capacity of all countries to monitor their own forests.

“By combining remote sensing technology with field data collection, we improve the quality of both methods,” said Heino. “This provides more accurate information on forest trends and new information on the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.”

FAO supports countries to monitor their forests through a network of forest monitoring specialists in 176 countries who share information and experiences.

This forest in southern Mexico was
burned for agriculture. (Photo by
Jami Dwyer)

To address the intensified threat of forest fires posed by climate change, dozens of meteorologists and fire scientists from 25 countries have gathered at a UN-backed meeting in Canada.

Participants at the three-day meeting, which began Monday in Edmonton, focused on improving indices of fire danger and smoke forecasting and monitoring.

“Our target is to produce operational guidelines for fire weather agrometeorolgy by 2009,” said Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the UN World Meteorological Organization, which helped to organize the event.

The development of forest fires depends largely on meteorological and climate factors. Lengthy periods of little rainfall, low humidity and high temperatures can lead to increased flammability of plants.

In the first seven months of 2008 alone, the fire scientists say, 118 percent of the 10-year average area has been burned in the United States, while 83 percent of the 10-year average has been burned in neighboring Canada.

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