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A Message from WRI's Global Director of Forests

Forests provide society with a wide array of benefits. They are a source of food and medicines. They provide wood for construction, fiber for paper, and fuel for energy. Forests help moderate freshwater flows and influence regional precipitation patterns on which nearby agriculture and cities depend. Forests are also central to the fight against climate change because they help remove carbon from the air but can also emit carbon into the atmosphere when cleared. And forests harbor the most biodiversity of any ecosystem on Earth. At least 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for their livelihoods,FAO 2015, http://www.fao.org/forestry/livelihoods/en/ . including nearly 70 million Indigenous People.  

But many forests, and their capacity to provide these benefits, are under threat. Nearly half of the forests that covered 50 percent the world’s land 10,000 years ago have since been cleared. Most forests still standing today have been degraded or fragmented; by one measure, less than one-third of them are still intact.See <a href="/gfr/data-and-methods#forest-degradation">Data and Methods</a>.  

We have seen governments and companies make time-bound commitments to end deforestation, restore degraded forest landscapes, and achieve sustainable forest management. But rapid deforestation and forest degradation have continued, driven primarily by growing global demand for food, fuel, and fiber. Climate change impacts, including severe fires and new vectors and outbreaks of forest pests and diseases, exacerbate the decline.  

We know that timely and reliable data are critical to addressing the crisis facing the world’s forests. The World Resources Institute is committed to providing the best data and technology currently available to monitor forests around the world. Since 2014, millions of people have gone online to access cutting-edge data via Global Forest Watch's easy-to-use interactive maps and dashboards.  

We also understand that maps and data often require additional analysis and interpretation to be useful for decision-making. We receive many requests from our users to help them apply data to report on policy targets, guide funding decisions, measure program impact, inform journalism, and other practical purposes. We have come to realize that providing access to data through GFW is not enough. We also need to help people with diverse needs and interests interpret data to answer their own questions. The Global Forest Review (GFR) aims to support this goal.   

We emphasize that the Global Forest Review is meant to complement, not replace, official assessment reports linked to international policy frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement, the New York Declaration on Forests, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. These policy frameworks have established specific indicators for tracking progress towards quantitative targets, and these indicators require reliable data to be effectively collected and analyzed. We have designed the Global Forest Review indicators to align with common goals that cut across these policy frameworks so that they can contribute to these official monitoring and measurement processes.  

As the quality and availability of spatial data improve, we will expand and improve existing content, especially as it relates to forest gain, drivers of loss, and net forest change. The Global Forest Review is fluid by design, and the contents of the report will be continually updated as relevant. Our hope is that providing timely, independent, and globally comprehensive insights will facilitate a future of more sustainable forest ecosystems.  

 

— Rod Taylor, Global Director of WRI's Forest Program  

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What is the Global Forest Review?

The Global Forest Review (GFR) is a living online report providing the latest information on the state of the world’s forests. Unlike other reports that compile statistical data reported by governments, the GFR draws primarily on global-scale geospatial data derived from analysis of satellite imagery. This approach to forest monitoring distinguishes the GFR in several ways: 

  • Spatially explicit. Satellites currently allow us to monitor the entire world’s forests at 30-meter resolution and at even higher resolutions in certain cases. This allows the GFR to go beyond global- and national-scale statistics to shed light on the local dynamics driving these trends.  
  • Frequently updated. Satellites are imaging the earth every day, allowing forests to be monitored in near real time. The GFR is a living report that is updated frequently based on the latest satellite data.   
  • Globally consistent. Satellites can be used to monitor the entire world using a consistent and transparent method, which is helpful for tracking global-scale trends. Other reporting initiatives compile statistics reported by countries and depend on the definitions, frequency, and accuracy with which individual governments update their forest data.  

Learn how the GFR compares to the most commonly referenced forest report—the Global Forest Resources Assessment from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations—here

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A quick Guide to the Global Forest Review Content

The Global Forest Review (GFR) has five major components. Content listed as “coming soon” hinges on data or analysis that is not yet available. 

  • Forest Pulse draws on the most recent data and analysis to reveal the latest trends in tropical deforestation.  
  • Indicators serve to track vital trends regarding the extent of global forest resources, their condition, management, and use.  
  • Top 10 Lists provide a snapshot of which countries are doing the best and worst when it comes to forests, comparing countries across multiple metrics.  
  • Targets Tracker (coming soon) serves as a global report on progress towards key sustainability goals related to forests. The Targets Tracker interprets the indicator data to assess progress in international efforts to reduce deforestation, combat climate change, restore forests, and conserve biodiversity.   
  • Data and Methods provides a detailed description of key data sets used and their sources, analyses performed and related assumptions, and a glossary of key terms.  
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The Data behind the Global Forest Review

The Global Forest Review (GFR) primarily uses geospatial data provided by Global Forest Watch. The data are drawn from multiple sources, ranging from academic researchers to official government data. The keystone data set underlying the GFR is a global map of tree cover change at 30-meter resolution, which depicts tree cover loss annually since 2001 and tree cover gain cumulatively from 2001 to 2012. This Global Tree Cover Change data set produced by the University of Maryland is the only regularly updated, high-resolution map of forest change currently in existence and can be explored in more detail via the Global Forest Watch website. The GFR combines these tree cover data with other spatial data sets—such as the location of protected areas or primary forests—to shed light on when, where, and why forests are changing and the impacts these changes have on biodiversity, climate change, and society.  

For more information about how the analysis in the GFR was generated, please refer to Data and Methods.  

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Talking about Tree Cover

The Global Forest Review (GFR) frequently refers to tree cover when talking about forest extent, loss, and gain. Tree cover is a convenient metric for monitoring forest change because it is easily measurable from space using freely available, medium-resolution satellite imagery. This means that tree cover can be monitored frequently, at low cost, and over large geographic scales. However, the existence of tree cover does not always make a forest, and tree cover loss does not always imply forest loss or deforestation. Measuring these variables directly poses technical challenges, since most definitions of forest involve a combination of tree cover and land use. The latter is much more difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to monitor using satellite imagery.  

The tree cover data used in this report is based on Hansen et al. (2013)Hansen et al. 2013, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1244693 . and defines tree cover as woody vegetation with a height of at least 5 meters (m) and a canopy density of at least 30 percent at 30 m resolution. This definition includes industrial tree plantations and commercial tree crops (such as oil palm or apple orchards) as well as natural and seminatural forests. The definition excludes areas of sparse tree cover, such as in the Sahel or the Cerrado, as well as individual trees in agricultural landscapes that may be critical for ecosystem functions. 

Tree cover loss is defined as the complete removal of tree cover for any reason. It includes temporary losses of tree cover related to wood harvesting, fire, and other human activities and natural disturbances that are likely to be followed by forest regrowth. It also includes deforestation, which typically refers to human-caused, permanent removal of natural forest cover.  

Tree cover gain is defined as an increase in tree cover to at least 50 percent canopy cover at 30 m resolution. Tree cover gain is more difficult to detect from satellite imagery over short intervals due to the gradual process of tree growth compared to tree removal. As such, the tree cover gain data used in this report is only available as a cumulative estimate from 2001 to 2012. Based on ongoing research, we anticipate that tree cover gain data will soon be updated to the most recent year and made available as annual updates.

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Forest Monitoring 101

Historically, forests have been monitored via boots-on-the-ground fieldwork. Countries monitored their forests through site-based sample plots as part of a national forest inventory. These field-based efforts can produce highly accurate and customized statistics, but they are also resource intensive and best suited to the scale of individual forest management units, protected areas, or a limited sample of plots across a country. Consequently, national forest inventories are typically carried out infrequently, often with patchy coverage of remote forests that are not easily accessed by road or river.  

At a global scale, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has conducted the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) since 1948 to provide national and global statistics on over 60 variables related to the extent of forest resources and their condition, management, and uses. The FRA compiles statistics reported by countries and thus depends on the definitions, frequency, and accuracy with which individual countries conduct their forest inventories or update forest-relevant statistics. The FRA has been published every five years since 1990.  

In recent years, advances in remote sensing and cloud computing have created a whole new array of options for large-scale forest monitoring and fieldwork. These technologies have enabled better detection of forest change, more frequently, over larger areas, at less cost, and with easier communication channels, such as the presentation of data in the form of spatially explicit maps that can be accessed online. A breakthrough in satellite-based forest monitoring occurred in 2008, when the U.S. Geological Survey opened all data from its Landsat satellite to the public for free. Many previous mapping efforts had used freely available Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite data, which ranges from 250 to 1,000 m in resolution. Suddenly, Landsat offered 30 m resolution data—almost 70 times higher resolution than MODIS—permitting much finer-scale monitoring, systematically and at global scale. Today, the sources and resolution of satellite data that can be used to monitor forests continue to expand and improve. 

At the same time, the advent of the Global Positioning System and technology-enabled ground patrols and forest inventories has allowed field staff to record more detailed coordinate points for their observations and upload those data into geographic information systems. This generates richer data in support of local forest management and provides means to verify and refine the automated interpretation of satellite data at global, continental, or national scales.  

These new technologies and approaches for systematically monitoring forests at large scales have largely been pioneered by researchers, often to produce global- or continental-scale maps and data products. More recently, many countries have begun to apply these approaches to enhance national forest inventories and monitoring systems, resulting in more accurate and frequently updated statistics. However, variability across countries remains high because countries have differing levels of capacity and expertise for technology adoption.

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The Global Forest Review Team

Christian Aldridge
Alyssa Barrett
Crystal Davis
Bill Dugan
Rosie Ettenheim
David Gibbs
Liz Goldman
Alice Gottesman
Nancy Harris
Liza LePage
Rocio Lower
Katie Lyons
Kevin Powers
Katie Reytar
Sarah Ruiz
Martina Schneider
Fred Stolle
Rod Taylor
Romain Warnault
Jessica Webb
Mikaela Weisse

Given the continually updated nature of the Global Forest Review, authors listed above reflect only the current Global Forest Review team. We would like to thank the many past contributors and reviewers, both within and outside of World Resources Institute.

We would like to thank Cargill, the Mulago Foundation, the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the US Agency for International Development, and the Walmart Foundation for contributing to the Global Forest Review. 

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{"Glossary":{"51":{"name":"agricultural tree crops","description":"Trees cultivated for their food, cultural, or economic values. These include oil palm, rubber, cocoa, cashew, mango, oranges (citrus), plantain, banana, and coconut.\r\n"},"94":{"name":"biodiversity intactness","description":"The proportion and abundance of a location\u0027s original forest community (number of species and individuals) that remain.\u0026nbsp;\r\n"},"95":{"name":"biodiversity significance","description":"The importance of an area for the persistence of forest-dependent species based on range rarity.\r\n"},"1":{"name":"deforestation","description":"The change from forest to another land cover or land use, such as forest to plantation or forest to urban area.\r\n"},"77":{"name":"deforested","description":"The change from forest to another land cover or land use, such as forest to plantation or forest to urban area.\r\n"},"76":{"name":"degradation","description":"The reduction in a forest\u2019s ability to perform ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and water regulation, due to natural and anthropogenic changes.\r\n"},"75":{"name":"degraded","description":"The reduction in a forest\u2019s ability to perform ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and water regulation, due to natural and anthropogenic changes.\r\n"},"79":{"name":"disturbances","description":"A discrete event that changes the structure of a forest ecosystem.\r\n"},"68":{"name":"disturbed","description":"A discrete event that changes the structure of a forest ecosystem.\r\n"},"65":{"name":"driver of tree cover loss","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"70":{"name":"drivers of loss","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"81":{"name":"drivers of tree cover loss","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"2":{"name":"forest","description":"Forests include tree cover greater than 30 percent tree canopy density and greater than 5 meters in height as mapped at a 30-meter Landsat pixel scale.\r\n"},"3":{"name":"forest concession","description":"A legal agreement allowing an entity the right to manage a public forest for production purposes.\r\n"},"90":{"name":"forest concessions","description":"A legal agreement allowing an entity the right to manage a public forest for production purposes.\r\n"},"53":{"name":"forest degradation","description":"The reduction in a forest\u2019s ability to perform ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and water regulation, due to natural and anthropogenic changes.\r\n"},"54":{"name":"forest disturbance","description":"A discrete event that changes the structure of a forest ecosystem.\r\n"},"5":{"name":"forest fragmentation","description":"The breaking of large, contiguous forests into smaller pieces, with other land cover types interspersed.\r\n"},"6":{"name":"forest management plan","description":"A plan that documents the stewardship and use of forests and other wooded land to meet environmental, economic, social, and cultural objectives. Such plans are typically implemented by companies in forest concessions.\r\n"},"62":{"name":"forests","description":"Forests include tree cover greater than 30 percent tree canopy density and greater than 5 meters in height as mapped at a 30-meter Landsat pixel scale.\r\n"},"69":{"name":"fragmentation","description":"The breaking of large, contiguous forests into smaller pieces, with other land cover types interspersed.\r\n"},"80":{"name":"fragmented","description":"The breaking of large, contiguous forests into smaller pieces, with other land cover types interspersed.\r\n"},"74":{"name":"gain","description":"The establishment of tree canopy in an area that previously had no tree cover. Tree cover gain may indicate a number of potential activities, including natural forest growth or the crop rotation cycle of tree plantations.\r\n"},"7":{"name":"hectare","description":"One hectare equals 100 square meters, 2.47 acres, or 0.01 square kilometers and is about the size of a rugby field. A football pitch is slightly smaller than a hectare (pitches are between 0.62 and 0.82 hectares).\r\n"},"66":{"name":"hectares","description":"One hectare equals 100 square meters, 2.47 acres, or 0.01 square kilometers and is about the size of a rugby field. A football pitch is slightly smaller than a hectare (pitches are between 0.62 and 0.82 hectares).\r\n"},"67":{"name":"intact","description":"A forest that contains no signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation as determined by remote sensing images and is large enough to maintain all native biological biodiversity.\r\n"},"78":{"name":"intact forest","description":"A forest that contains no signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation as determined by remote sensing images and is large enough to maintain all native biological biodiversity.\r\n"},"8":{"name":"intact forests","description":"A forest that contains no signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation as determined by remote sensing images and is large enough to maintain all native biological biodiversity.\r\n"},"55":{"name":"land and environmental defenders","description":"People who peacefully promote and protect rights related to land and\/or the environment.\r\n"},"9":{"name":"loss driver","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"10":{"name":"low tree canopy density","description":"Less than 30 percent tree canopy density.\r\n"},"84":{"name":"managed forest concession","description":"Areas where governments have given rights to private companies to harvest timber and other wood products from natural forests on public lands.\r\n"},"83":{"name":"managed forest concession maps for nine countries","description":"Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Indonesia, Liberia, and the Republic of the Congo\r\n"},"91":{"name":"megacities","description":"A city with more than 10 million people.\r\n"},"57":{"name":"megacity","description":"A city with more than 10 million people."},"56":{"name":"mosaic restoration","description":"Restoration that integrates trees into mixed-use landscapes, such as agricultural lands and settlements, where trees can support people through improved water quality, increased soil fertility, and other ecosystem services. This type of restoration is more likely in deforested or degraded forest landscapes with moderate population density (10\u2013100 people per square kilometer). "},"86":{"name":"natural","description":"A forest that is grown without human intervention.\r\n"},"12":{"name":"natural forest","description":"A forest that is grown without human intervention.\r\n"},"63":{"name":"natural forests","description":"A forest that is grown without human intervention.\r\n"},"82":{"name":"persistent gain","description":"Forests that have experienced one gain event from 2001 to 2016.\r\n"},"13":{"name":"persistent loss and gain","description":"Forests that have experienced one loss or one gain event from 2001 to 2016."},"97":{"name":"plantation","description":"An area in which trees have been planted, generally for commercial purposes.\u0026nbsp;\r\n"},"93":{"name":"plantations","description":"An area in which trees have been planted, generally for commercial purposes.\u0026nbsp;\r\n"},"88":{"name":"planted","description":"A forest composed of trees that have been deliberately planted and\/or seeded by humans.\r\n"},"14":{"name":"planted forest","description":"A forest composed of trees that have been deliberately planted and\/or seeded by humans.\r\n"},"73":{"name":"planted forests","description":"A forest composed of trees that have been deliberately planted and\/or seeded by humans.\r\n"},"15":{"name":"primary forest","description":"Old-growth forests that are typically high in carbon stock and rich in biodiversity. The GFR uses a humid tropical primary rainforest data set, representing forests in the humid tropics that have not been cleared in recent years.\r\n"},"64":{"name":"primary forests","description":"Old-growth forests that are typically high in carbon stock and rich in biodiversity. The GFR uses a humid tropical primary rainforest data set, representing forests in the humid tropics that have not been cleared in recent years.\r\n"},"58":{"name":"production forest","description":"A forest where the primary management objective is to produce timber, pulp, fuelwood, and\/or nonwood forest products."},"89":{"name":"production forests","description":"A forest where the primary management objective is to produce timber, pulp, fuelwood, and\/or nonwood forest products.\r\n"},"87":{"name":"seminatural","description":"A managed forest modified by humans, which can have a different species composition from surrounding natural forests.\r\n"},"59":{"name":"seminatural forests","description":"A managed forest modified by humans, which can have a different species composition from surrounding natural forests. "},"96":{"name":"shifting agriculture","description":"Temporary loss or permanent deforestation due to small- and medium-scale agriculture.\r\n"},"17":{"name":"tree cover","description":"All vegetation greater than five meters in height and may take the form of natural forests or plantations across a range of canopy densities. Unless otherwise specified, the GFR uses greater than 30 percent tree canopy density for calculations.\r\n"},"71":{"name":"tree cover canopy density is low","description":"Less than 30 percent tree canopy density.\r\n"},"60":{"name":"tree cover gain","description":"The establishment of tree canopy in an area that previously had no tree cover. Tree cover gain may indicate a number of potential activities, including natural forest growth or the crop rotation cycle of tree plantations."},"18":{"name":"tree cover loss","description":"The removal or mortality of tree cover, which can be due to a variety of factors, including mechanical harvesting, fire, disease, or storm damage. As such, loss does not equate to deforestation. "},"19":{"name":"tree plantation","description":"An agricultural plantation of fast-growing tree species on short rotations for the production of timber, pulp, or fruit.\r\n"},"72":{"name":"tree plantations","description":"An agricultural plantation of fast-growing tree species on short rotations for the production of timber, pulp, or fruit.\r\n"},"85":{"name":"trees outside forests","description":"Trees found in urban areas, alongside roads, or within agricultural land\u0026nbsp;are often referred to as Trees Outside Forests (TOF).\u202f\r\n"}}}