innovation wood (iwood)
Baarerstrasse 113B
CH-6300 Zug


The forest disappears

According to figures from FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in 1996, some 27 per cent of the earth’s surface was covered with forest. 8000 years ago there were 8.08 billion hectares (19.96 billion acres) of forest worldwide. Today only 3.04 billion hectares (7.51 billion acres) remain. Europe has lost around 62 per cent of its original woodland, while the Asian-Pacific region has lost as much as 88 per cent. In its most recent studies, the World Wildlife-Foundation WWF refers to dramatic increase in forest destruction over the last five years. According to one study, during this period 17 million hectares (42 million acres) of primeval forest were destroyed or replaced by species-poor timber plantations. The FAO gives a figure of 11.3 million hectares (28 million acres) of forest destroyed from 1990 to 1995, although this figure refers to net loss. There is a significant difference between the two studies: the WWF study also takes into account the loss of biological diversity. For this reason, in 1997 the WWF proposed the establishment of a worldwide forest network to protect biological diversity: primeval forests should have absolute protection from human interference.

In the Amazonian rainforest a tree falls every few seconds. At this rate what was once the world’s largest area of primeval forest will have disappeared entirely in fifty year’s time. The same is also true of forests in other countries such as Costa Rica, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand. In percentages terms, looking at the period 1990-1995, the loss of existing forest area was largest in the Lebanon (7.8 per cent), followed by Afghanistan (6.8 per cent), the Philippines (3.5 per cent), Costa Rica ( 3.3 per cent), Pakistan (2.9 per cent) and Thailand (2.6 per cent). In absolute terms the losses were largest in Brazil (2.55 million hectares / 6.30 million acres lost per year), followed by Indonesia (1.08 million hectares / 2.66 million acres lost per year), Zaire (740,000 hectares / 1,828,577 acres lost per year) and Bolivia (581,000 hectares / 1,435,680 acres lost per year).

Even the few primeval forests which still survive in the northern hemisphere are becoming smaller by the year. For this reason, the forests in the growth economies of Eastern Europe and Asia – the industrial nations of the future – are especially important. Among them, attention is focused on Russia, which has the world’s largest coverage of forest land (around one fifth of the world’s total forest area). The future of these forests, which are mainly located in remote areas, has become increasingly uncertain since the fall of the Iron Curtain, as financially powerful timber companies from the West seek to purchase the cutting rights for relatively small sums.

Efforts made in China have shown how difficult it is to re-afforest areas once they have been deforested. Each year millions of trees are planted here, representing a huge financial investment. However, even after thirty to forty years, these new forests are not able to develop further without human intervention. Even the second generation of trees has to be planted by hand. Despite this enormous effort to counteract desert formation and to protect agricultural land, China is still heavily reliant on imports, especially because of its high consumption of firewood.