1. Global Land Use

Forests and forestry are not isolated from society, even though sometimes foresters may give little consideration to their societal development. The impacts of social change on forests are clearly seen by the development of land uses. It is important to understand that forestry and forest use are only one form of land use and at times in competition with other uses for the same areas.

In looking at the world map (Fig 4) one can see that oceans take up two thirds of the surface area of Earth, leaving one-third (or about 13 billion hectares) for land. Nearly one third of the total land area consists of areas that are unfavorable for human activities. For example, the arctic tundra, deserts (dry, warm or cold-winter deserts) and rugged/high mountain areas (which restrict cultivation, permanent pasture and forest growth). They are generally (if at all) little used for activities such as non-permanent grazing, hunting, dispersed adventure tourism, scientific expeditions and surveys (and usually cannot be classified under any specific land use heading).

The use of land in urban and other built-up areas (infrastructure) is continues to grow. This share of global land use is not intensive, perhaps being not more than 2% - 4% (combined statistics not readily available). Cultivated areas cover about 11% and permanent pastures cover about 26% of land area. The expansion of these land uses has largely occurred at the expense of forests.

According to a recent global assessment (FAO 2006) forests cover 30% of the total land area of the world. The total forest area in 2005 was around 4 billion hectares (ha). When the total forested area is divided by the world population (6.3 billion) then the average land area per capita is 0.6 hectare. One third of the total forest area consists of other wooded land, where forest cover is less than 10% but more than 5%.


Figure F5. Forest map of Europe (Schuck et al 2002)1

However (as true for many resources) the areas of world forests are unevenly distributed. There are 64 countries with a combined population of 2 billion that have less than 0.1 ha of forest per capita. The five most forest-rich countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China) account for more than half of the total forest area (2 097 million hectares or 53 per cent).  The ten most forest-rich countries account for two-thirds of total forest area.


1. This information is based on outputs from the project "Forest tree groupings database of the EU-15 and pan-European area derived from NOAA-AVHRR data", which was awarded by the European Commission, Joint Research Centre (Institute for Environment and Sustainability), to a consortium consisting of EFI, VTT Information Technology and the University of Joensuu under the contract number: 17223-2000-12 F1SCISPFI. The information contained herein has been obtained from or is based upon sources believed by the authors to be reliable but is not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness. The information is supplied without obligation and on the understanding that any person who acts upon it or otherwise changes his/her position in reliance thereon does so entirely at his/her own risk. The European Commission nor the project consortium are responsible for its use in this publication and the content is at the sole responsibility of the end-user.

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