New Internationalist

Forests

Issue 324

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factfile on...
Forests

Wood consumption (% of world total)2
Wood consumption graph.

 

Chop chop
Wood consumption in the industrialized world is 12 times higher than in the countries of the South. These countries use more wood for fuel, but that adds up to less than twice the amount used by the West. If current trends continue, by 2010 we will use 20-per-cent more wood. If everyone in the world consumed as much as the West does, wood consumption would double in the same period.1

 

'Man
has gone to the
Moon but he does not
know yet how to make a
flame tree or a birdsong. Let us
keep our dear countries free from
irreversible mistakes which would
lead us in the future to long for
those same birds and trees.'

Former President Houphouet-Boigny
of Cote d'Ivoire, a country which
has lost 90-per-cent of its
original forests and
woodlands1

 

Rainforests
Tropical forests cover 6 per cent of the world's land surface but comprise half the planet's wood and house 70-90 per cent of the earth's organisms. Some 25 per cent of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from rainforest plants. Tropical forests also regulate the local and global climate by storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.3 And deforestation can lead to severe flooding as unprotected sediment washes into rivers and causes them to silt up.

Why have tropical forests declined so fast? Partly because of the demand for specialist woods like mahogany, teak and ebony and partly because forests are cleared for land, which often ends up as plantations for export crops.1

 

Forest facts
More than two billion people depend on wood for fuel to cook their food.
JENNY MATHEWS / NI
. Only 10 per cent of today's industrial wood comes from tree farms.
. About 55 per cent of the wood cut today is used directly for fuel, while the rest goes on industrial products like lumber and paper.
. About half the world's fuel wood is produced in five countries: India, China, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria.
. Many indigenous groups are being forced to abandon the forests which are their livelihood. In the Brazilian Amazon, there were originally 230 native groups with an estimated 2 million people. Today there are half as many groups with only 50,000 people in all.
. Five countries produce more than 45 per cent of the world's industrial- wood harvest. The US, Russia, Canada, China, Brazil, Sweden, Finland, Malaysia, Germany and Indonesia account for more than 71 per cent of industrial production.
. The Philippines exported all but 10 per cent of its wood in the 1960s and 1970s and now has to import wood; 18 million forest dwellers have become impoverished as a result.

 

The wood and the trees
Almost half the forests that once covered the earth are gone, but we are still cutting down trees. Nearly 200 million hectares were lost between 1980 and 1995. That's an area the size of Mexico.

These three globes show the percentage of land covered by forest. In 1950 it was 30-per-cent, half of which was tropical forest. By 1975 the area covered by tropical forest had declined to 12-per-cent and today it is half that. In contrast, temperate forests have remained at a steady 20-per-cent, thanks to reforestation.1

[image, unknown]

 

Click here to go to the Forest Stewardship Council website. Forest stewards
The Forest Stewardship Council is a global certification scheme for timber and wood products. Like the organic standard or the fair-trade mark the FSC logo provides a guarantee that the wood in a product comes from well-managed forests. A wide range of forests from Sweden to Brazil have received the FSC certification - look out for their logo on any wood products that you buy.
E-mail: fscoax@fscoax.org
Website: www.fscoax.org

1. State of the World 1999 (Worldwatch Institute, Earthscan).
2. Gaia Atlas of Planet Management edited by Norman Myers (Gaia Books).
3. A to Z of World Development (New Internationalist Publications 1998).

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