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Forests in the UNECE region are expanding, but urbanization remains a major threat

Published: 21 October 2014

The UNECE region as a whole has 1.89 billion ha of forest land, 41.4% of the global total, as compared to 34.8% of global land area and 18.3% of the population.  The region’s share of the world’s forests is one percentage point more than ten years ago because UNECE region forests have expanded while the total of those elsewhere has declined. 

Forest cover has been expanding in all parts of the region for several decades.  The increase between 2000 and 2015 was 27.5 million ha, or 1.5% of the total area of forest and other wooded land in 2000.  Natural expansion onto former agricultural land accounts for most of the increase, but afforestation in the context of public programmes has also played a significant role.

The assessment of forest coverage in the UNECE region is one of the tasks of the UNECE-FAO Team of Specialists on Monitoring of Forest Management, which meets on 21-23 October in Geneva to discuss the preliminary findings of a study on UNECE Forests – State, Trends and Challenges. The study, to be released in May 2015 at the 11th meeting of the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York, is currently being prepared by the experts, who are validating data and results.

Preliminary findings also highlight that forests of the UNECE region are expanding in terms of stocks of wood.  Growing stock, total and per hectare, has been growing steadily: net annual increment has risen and is more than the harvest in all countries where this parameter is measured.

However, although the net forest area is increasing in the UNECE region, still gross deforestation occurs. Urban sprawl seems to be the main driver in many cases. There is also concern about disturbance around centres of population and major infrastructure in some parts of the region.  This is leading to increased fragmentation, and interference with natural processes, which may threaten forest health and integrity at the subnational scale. For instance, most of the projected decline in forest area would occur as a result of urban expansion to accommodate population growth in the United States. Losses of forest area are expected to be concentrated in the south-eastern U.S., in areas where the population is rising rapidly, forests are present and, perhaps paradoxically, a large share of North American industrial roundwood is produced.

Preliminary findings also note that the area of protected forests has generally increased, and forest management efforts across the UNECE region have increasingly incorporated environmental benefits in their planning and implementation activities.  The use of conservation credit exchanges and PES (payments for environmental services) schemes has also increased. However, while it is relatively easy to document the expansion of management activities aimed at enhancing environmental benefits, gauging the effect of these activities is more difficult. Ongoing pressure on forests and resulting forest degradation are evident at local and landscape scales with associated loss of biodiversity and related environmental impacts.

The study’s preliminary findings will be discussed also at the seventy-second meeting of the UNECE Committee on Forest and the Forest Industry in Kazan, Russian Federation, on 18-21 November 2015. See: URL http://www.unece.org/forests/kazan2014.html

For more information, please contact:

Roman Michalak, Forestry Officer at roman.michalak@unece.org

Note to Editors:

Forest: land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ. It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use.  

Other wooded land: land not defined as “Forest”, spanning more than 0.5 hectares; with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of 5-10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds; or with a combined cover of shrubs, bushes and trees above 10 percent. It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use.

FAO: Global Forests Assessment – Rome, 2012 


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