Forests

We now turn to the situation of the world's forests and the contribution that they can make to the mitigation of global warming. Action here can easily be taken now and is commendable for many other reasons.

Over the past few centuries many countries, especially those at mid latitudes, have removed much of their forest cover to make room for agriculture. Many of the largest and most critical remaining forested areas are in the tropics. However, during the last few decades, the additional needs of the increasing populations of developing countries for agricultural land and for fuelwood, together with the rise in demand for tropical hardwoods by developed countries, has led to a worrying rate of loss of forest in tropical regions (see box below). In many tropical countries the development of forest areas has been the only hope of subsistence for many people. Unfortunately, because the soils and other conditions were often inappropriate, some of this forest clearance has not led to sustainable agriculture but to serious land and soil degradation.5

Measurements on the ground and observations from orbiting satellites have been combined to provide estimates of the area of tropical forest lost. Over the decades of the 1980s and 1990s the average loss was about 1% per year (see box below) although in some areas it was considerably higher. Such rates of loss cannot be sustained if much forest is to be left in 50 or a 100 years' time. The loss of forests is damaging, not only because of the ensuing land degradation but also

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