The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been collecting, analysing and reporting data on global forest area since 1946. The report 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment provides extensive data on changes in forest area and conditions from 1990 to 2015 for 234 countries and territories. These indicators are particularly important when considering climate change issues and the environmental situation of the planet. Furthermore, forests are an important environment for producing bioenergy.
The total forest area in 2015 was estimated to be around 31% of the world's land area, just under 40 million km2. The top ten countries with the largest forest area account for some 67% of forest area worldwide. The largest area of natural forests (about 9 million km2) is found in Europe, with about 85 percent in the Russian Federation (8 million km2), which is the worldwide leader. Home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, is in second place (5 million km2) followed by Canada (3.5 million km2), USA (3 million km2) and China (2 million km2). Other countries further down the list are Congo (1.5 million km2) in 6th place as well as close neighbours Australia (1.2 million km2) and Indonesia (0.9 million km2) in 7th and 8th places, respectively. Peru, which has 13% of Amazon forests, is in 9th position (0.7 million km2). India (0.7 million km2 of native forests) rounds off the top 10.
According to the FAO report, the planet lost over 3 percent of its forest area between 1990 and 2015 – more than 129 million hectares, an area almost equivalent in size to Peru. The main reasons for this immense decline are growing human population and the consequential growing demands for forest products and services as well as agricultural land use. In general, the report finds that compared to the 1990s the situation has improved somewhat and the rate of global forest area loss has slowed by more than 50% between the periods 1990–2000 and 2010–2015. It should be noted that the average change in total forest area is the sum of total losses (deforestation) and total gains (forest expansion). So, between 2010 and 2015, alongside the 7.6 million ha. lost per year, 4.3 million ha. is gained annually in the world, resulting in a net annual decrease in forest area of 3.3 million ha.
The regions which account for the largest natural forest loss in the world are Latin America and the Caribbean (97 million ha. since 1990) followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (83 million ha.). A somewhat smaller decrease in forest area is observed in North and Central America as well as Asia, whereas in Europe the trend is relatively stable. Brazil is an unfortunate example of rapid deforestation, with a current loss rate amounting to 984 thousand ha. per year. In 25 years the country has lost more than 16% of its original Amazonian forest and is ranked the number one country with the greatest annual net loss of forest area in the period 2010–2015, not only in Latin America but worldwide. Losing 684,000 ha/year, Indonesia is in second position followed by Myanmar (546,000 ha/year), Nigeria (410,000 ha/year) and the United Republic of Tanzania (372 000 ha/year). Other countries further down the list are Paraguay (325,000 ha/year), Zimbabwe (312,000 ha/year), Democratic Republic of the Congo (311,000 ha/year), Argentina (297,000 ha/year) and Bolivia (289,000 ha/year) rounding off the top 10 with the highest deforestation rates in the world.
As mentioned above, in the period between 2010 and 2015 4.3 million ha. were gained annually in the world. This gain has been achieved through planted forest area, which has increased by over 105 million ha. since 1990, and also through designating new legal protected areas at a national level, which has led to an increase of 200 million ha. since 1990. China, with its net forest gain of 1,542 thousand ha. per year, leads the way in the top ten of the greatest forest net gain between 2010–2015, followed by Australia (308,000 ha/year), Chile (301,000 ha/year), the United States of America (275,000 ha/year) and the Philippines (240,000 ha/year). Other countries further down the list are Gabon (200,000 ha/year), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (189,000 ha/year), India (178,000 ha/year), and Vietnam (129,000 ha/year). The one European country in the forest expansion top 10, France (113,000 ha/year), rounds off the list.
The FAO provides data on global wood removals between 1990 and 2011, and over this period annual wood removals remained almost at the same level, but with significant annual variations. In 2011 worldwide wood removals reached approximately 3 billion m3. The top five countries by highest wood removals are India (434,766 thousand m3), the USA (324,433 thousand m3), Brazil (228,929 thousand m3), the Russian Federation (197,000 thousand m3) and Canada (149,855 thousand m3). It should be noted that about half of total removals worldwide are for wood fuel, particularly in low-income countries, whereas in high-income countries wood removals are used primarily for production. Canada uses only 2.5% of total wood removals for wood fuel, Sweden 8.2%, whereas the figure for India is 88.6% and Ethiopia 97.2%.
Alongside information on forest resources, the FAO also provides data on the global production volume of forest products. According to the latest 2016 statistics, which covers 245 countries and territories, starting from 2012, global wood production rates have gradually increased with a growth of three to six percent. Besides the general positive economic factors, this trend is also due to the growing demand for wood energy. One of the sources of energy is wood fuel, which is also used for the production of charcoal and pellets. Furthermore, wood chips, particles and various wood residues are also used for power production.
In recent years the market for wood products has seen a sharp increase in the production and consumption of wood pellets. In 2016, the world produced 29 million tons of pellets, compared to 28 million tons in 2015. Almost all production is concentrated in Europe (59%) and North America (31%). The top five largest producers of pellets are the United States (21%), Canada (10%), Germany (7%), Sweden (6%) and Latvia (5%). The USA, Canada and Latvia are also the largest exporters of pellets. The UK accounts for 53% of pellet imports in the world.
In contrast to the trends for wood pellets, the global production of wood fuel (including wood for charcoal production) remained almost at the same level during the period from 2012 to 2016. Despite a 3% decline in production in the Asia-Pacific countries, this region became the leader in wood fuel production in 2016, being responsible for 39% (733 million m3) of wood fuel production worldwide, followed by Africa (36%), Latin America and the Caribbean (14%), Europe (8%) and North America (3%).
In the period between 2012 and 2016, the global charcoal production increased by 4% and amounted to 51 million tons in 2016. The world leader is Africa, which increased its charcoal production from 29 to 32 million tons between 2012 and 2016. The leading African producer countries are Nigeria (4.5 million tons) and Ethiopia (4.3 million tons). In Latin America and the Caribbean, the industrial charcoal production decreased slightly between 2015 and 2016 and now amounts to 7.5 million tons per year, with Brazil producing 5.5 million tons. In Asian countries charcoal production has remained at about the same level for several years, amounting to 9,322 million tons in 2016. In Europe and the countries of Oceania, the charcoal production scale is low and has remained mostly unchanged in recent years.
The global production of sawn wood increased steadily between 2012 and 2016 and amounted to 467 million m3 in 2016, which is approximately 3% more than in 2015 (453 million m3) and 15% than in 2012 (405 million m3). Europe is the world leader in the production of sawn wood, producing 156 million m3 in 2016 (34%), followed by Asia (29%) and North America (28%). The lowest production of sawn wood can be witnessed in Africa, which is responsible for 2% (10 million m3) of global production. At the country level, the United States stays in first place having steadily increased its production of sawn wood in recent years to reach 78 million m3 in 2016. China running second, has rapidly stepped up its sawn wood production scale every year (2012 - 56 million m3, 2016 - 77 million m3). The Russian Federation (37 million m3) and Germany (22 million m3) are also ranked among the top five. Sawn wood production in Latin America remained practically unchanged between 2012 and 2016 and amounted to 34 million m3 in 2016, with 14.5 million m3 being produced by Brazil and 8.5 million m3 by Chile.
The category of wood chips and particles includes wood that has been deliberately reduced to small pieces during the production of other wood products and is used for fibre board production, as a fuel, or for other purposes. In recent years, global production of wood chips has grown significantly. As such, almost 265 million m3 were produced worldwide in 2016, which is 10 million m3 more than in 2015. The number one producer is the USA (50 million m3). In second place is China (46 million m3); in third position is Canada (29 million m3). Other countries further down the list are Australia (16 million m3), Brazil (12 million m3) and Chile (12 million m3). The top ten include four European countries - Germany, Sweden, Finland and Russia, which together produced 37 million m3 of wood chips and particles.
Wood residues are classified as wood waste that has not been reduced to chips or particles. Since 2012 global production of wood residues has gradually increased and amounted to 236 million m3 in 2016. The market leader is the Asian continent, which is responsible for almost half of the production worldwide (114 million m3), with China (98 million m3) being the largest producer of wood residues and increasing production by 28% between 2012 and 2016. Europe with 72 million m3 is in second position, with France being in the lead with 18 million m3. Sweden achieved a quantum leap. It more than doubled its wood waste production and took second place on the continent, pulling ahead of Russia and Poland (3rd and 4th places, respectively). Brazil is the leader (19 million m3) in Latin America, which collectively accounts for 23 million m3 of wood waste production. Although the African continent has doubled its production of wood residues, its production volumes are still insignificant from a global perspective (1 million m3).