Deforestation Facts, Figures, and Causes

August 2010

Deforestation is defined as the conversion of land from forest to other uses such are agriculture, livestock or residential development.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a variety of factors leads to deforestation: Agricultural expansion is a leading cause worldwide. . . Infrastructure development and wood extraction are also major factors, although all three factors often occur simultaneously in a given forest.1

Deforestation has intensified—and is expected to increase. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations from 1990-2005, deforestation—mainly conversion of forests to agricultural land—in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia occurred at an alarming rate of approximately 13 million hectares per year. Global economic development will, in all likelihood, continue to drive the demand of the world’s forests. Without a significant structural shift in economies and implementation of sustainable forest management, deforestation will continue in most developing regions.2

Bioenergy and the world’s forests

Pressure on the world’s forests from the renewable energy sector also continues to grow as forests are being replaced with biofuel crops such as sugarcane (Brazil), palm oil (Indonesia) and other ethanol feedstocks to meet growing global renewable energy demand. Where the agricultural land base has shrunk—the Pacific, Europe, North America and parts of Asia—deforestation has ceased. However, a shift from fossil fuels toward biofuels in developed regions may have divergent impacts, in some cases resulting in the expansion of the forest as a fuel source (eg. wood pellets) while, in others, continued degradation.

Reduced economic viability of forestry may also result in lower investment in forest management (FAO SOWF 2009). The recent economic downturn in the U.S. and Canada has cause a slump in the demand for wood and wood products. This along with the increase in demand for cellulose ethanol (biofuel that can be derived from trees) will likely result in increased investment in planted forests. The FAO believes that the future of North American forests will depend on the path of the economic recovery and the commercial viability of the biofuel industry.3

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Source: FAO Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010


High net change in forest area globally (2000 – 2005)

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Source: FAO State of the World’s Forest 2007


1. Nogueron, Ruth, Lars Laestadius, and Joe Lawson. Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products. Publication no. 978-3-940388-18-6. WBCSD and WRI, 2008. (

2. FAO. State of the World’s Forests 2007. Rep. no. ISBN 978-92-5-105586-1. FAO, 2007.(

3. FAO. State of the World’s Forests 2009. Rep. no. ISBN 978-92-5-106057-5. FAO, 2009. (