The rate of deforestation has slowed over the last 10 years, but each year an area roughly the size of Costa Rica is still destroyed, according to a comprehensive forest review released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
"For the first time, we are able to show that the rate of deforestation has decreased globally as a result of concerted efforts taken both at local and international level,"
said Eduardo Rojas, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Forestry Department, referring to the agency’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010.
Between 2000 and 2010, some 13 million hectares of forests were converted annually to other uses, such as agriculture, or lost through natural causes, down from 16 million hectares per year during the 1990s, according to the assessment which surveyed 233 countries and areas.
Ambitious tree planting programmes in countries such as China, India, the United States and Vietnam – combined with natural expansion of forests in some regions – have added more than 7 million hectares of new forests annually.
In addition, Brazil and Indonesia, which had the highest loss of forests in the 1990s, have significantly reduced their deforestation rates.
"Not only have countries improved their forest policies and legislation, they have also allocated forests for use by local communities and indigenous peoples and for the conservation of biological diversity and other environmental functions," Mr. Rojas said.
"This is a very welcoming message in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity," he added highlighting the UN-designated year meant to spotlight preservation of efforts for the world’s diverse animal and plant species.
Despite the declining trend, the area of primary forest – or forests undisturbed by human activity – continues to decrease, Mr. Rojas said calling on countries to strengthen their efforts to better conserve and manage them.
The world's total forests - at just over four billion hectares or 31 percent of the total land area – play an important part in climate change mitigation. Forests store a vast amount of carbon. When a forest is cut down and converted to another use, carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
Ensuring environmental sustainability is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an internationally recognized blueprint to alleviate poverty by 2015.