The rate of deforestation worldwide has slowed considerably over the past three decades, according to a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report published on May 22.

From 2015-20, the overall rate of deforestation slowed to 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) annually, down from 16 million hectares (39.5 million acres) from 1990-2000.

The net loss of forests, which factors in the establishment of new forests, dropped from 7.8 million hectares (19.3 million acres) in the 1990s to 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) in the 2000s to 4.7 million hectares (11.6 million acres) in the 2010s.

Despite these decreases, a cumulative net loss of 178 million hectares (nearly 440 million acres) of forest has taken place over the past 30 years. During this time, forests declined from 32.5% to 30.8% of the total land mass.

Two-thirds (66%) of the world’s forests are located in 10 nations, with the highest percentages in Russia (20%), Brazil (12%) and the U.S. (9%).

Net losses decreased significantly in South America in the past 10 years, while net losses have increased steadily in Africa over the past 30 years.

Asia and Europe have seen net gains each of the past three decades, with Oceana and North and Central America seeing little change.

While deforestation happens due to a variety of factors (fires, pests and invasive species, for example), the report noted that “large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soy bean and oil palm) accounted for 40% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33%.”

Forest preservation is crucial to ensure the survival and well-being of a vast number of species.

“The vast majority of terrestrial biodiversity is found in the world’s forests – from boreal forests in the far North to tropical rainforests,” the report said. “Together, they contain more than 60,000 different tree species and provide habitats for 80% of amphibian species, 75% of bird species and 68% of mammal species.”

Proper usage of forests means finding a balance between conservation and sustainable usage.

This will require an increase in reforestation efforts and a decrease in the removal of large sections of forests for agricultural production.

The full report is available here.

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