World Forests are disappearing rapidly according to the 2009 State of the World's Forests report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The report notes that expansion of large-scale monocultures of oil palm, soy and other crops for agrofuel production has been a key factor in the failure to halt deforestation.
Two leading environmental organisations, Friends of the Earth International and the Global Forest Coalition, have called on world governments to take immediate action to halt deforestation and forest degradation.
The report has also been criticised by these organisations on biofuels, illegal logging, and massive replacement of forests by large-scale tree plantations in many countries.
"Plantations are not forests", said Isaac Rojas, coordinator of the Forest and Biodiversity Program of Friends of the Earth International. "All over the world, plantations destroy the lands and livelihoods of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, as well as biodiversity and water resources. They also store far less carbon than natural forests."
"As they provide very little employment for rural people, tree plantations are also a major cause of rural depopulation and a further shifting agricultural frontier, thus causing the destruction of forests elsewhere," said Simone Lovera, managing coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition.
"By actively promoting monoculture tree plantations, FAO itself is partly responsible for this global trend of replacing biologically diverse forests with straight rows of usually non-native trees," she added.
The report says that the current economic crisis has affected forests in a number of ways:
"The collapse of the housing sector has reduced the demand for a wide array of wood and wood products, leading to mill closures and unemployment. New investments are slowing as a result, affecting all wood industries."
"The demand for environmental services has also changed as a result of reduced ability and willingness to pay for such services. Carbon prices have remained highly volatile. Future climate change arrangements may face challenges as countries give priority to tackling the economic crisis."
"Potential negative impacts on forest resources could include reduced investment in sustainable forest management and a rise in illegal logging as the decline in the formal economic sector opens opportunities for expansion of the informal sector. Land dependence, which had been easing, could increase, raising the risk of agricultural expansion into forests, deforestation and reversal of previous forest gains. However, there could also be positive impacts – reduced wood demand could lessen pressure on forests, while conversion of forest for large-scale cultivation of commercial crops such as oil-palm, soybeans and rubber could slow as their prices fall."