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GEO-3: GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK  
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Forest products

Wood supply and production remains the focus of most forest inventories. More than one-third of aboveground woody biomass is located in South America, with 27 per cent in Brazil alone. Estimates by FAO (2000) show that global production of total roundwood reached 3 335 million m3 in 1999. Just over half of this was fuelwood, about 90 per cent of which was produced and consumed in developing countries. On the other hand, industrial roundwood production, 1 550 million m3 in 1999, was dominated by developed countries, which together accounted for 79 per cent of total global production. The overall trend for industrial roundwood production was relatively flat during the 1990s. This was a significant change from the rapid growth that occurred prior to 1990.

Commercial logging methods are often destructive and contribute directly or indirectly to deforestation. In West Africa, it was estimated that in obtaining 1 m3 of logs, about 2 m3 of standing trees are destroyed (Serageldine 1990). Logging is especially damaging on steep slopes or in sensitive ecosystems such as transitional forests and mangroves (see box below). Where certain species are selected, non-target species can also be damaged. Clearing of forests impacts most severely on local populations, who lose vital sources of food, fuel, construction materials, medicines and areas for livestock grazing. It also exposes soils and shade species to wind, sunlight, evaporation and erosion, accelerating siltation in dams, rivers and the coastal zone, as well as causing severe floods.

Where the forest meets the sea

Flock of birds in a mangrove forest at Orissa, India

Source: UNEP, Van Gruissen, Topham Picturepoint

Mangrove forests thrive in intertidal zones of sub-tropical and tropical shores of Africa, Australia, Asia and the Americas. They line about 25 per cent of tropical coastlines.Mangrove forests are among the world's most biologically diverse and productive systems. They provide food and refuge for many species and nutrients for the marine environment Mangroves also act as nursery grounds for fish and shellfish, and are prime nesting andmigratory sites for hundreds of bird species (see photo). In Belize, for instance, more than 500 species of birds have been recorded in mangrove areas. Mangroves also help protect coastlines from erosion, storm damage and wave action, and protect coral reefs and sea grass beds from damaging siltation. Local communities are provided with timber and fuelwood from mangrove forests.

Mangroves are threatened by activities such as overharvesting, freshwater diversion, pollution, prolonged flooding and fluctuating sea levels. In addition, the charcoal and timber industries, tourism and other coastal developments are destroying mangrove forests. The rapidly expanding shrimp aquaculture industry poses the gravest threat - as much as 50 per cent of recent mangrove destruction has been due to clear-cutting for shrimp farms.

Thailand has lost more than half of its mangrove forests since 1960. In the Philippines, mangroves declined from an estimated 448 000 ha in the 1920s to only 110 000 ha in 1990. In Ecuador, the Muisne region has lost nearly 90 per cent of its mangroves. Globally, about half of the world's mangrove forests may have been lost.

Sources: Quarto 2002, UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 2000

There is a global trend towards greater reliance on plantations as a source of industrial wood. The development of a significant global plantation estate is quite recent; half of all plantations in the world are less than 15 years old. Asia has led plantation establishment globally; as of 2000, about 62 per cent of all forest plantations were located in that region. Other significant developments include: rising private sector investment in plantations in developing countries; increasing foreign investments in plantations; and an expansion of 'outgrower' schemes whereby communities or small landowners produce trees for sale to private companies (FAO 2001b). Forest plantations typically contain only one, or a few, species, which makes them less biologically diverse and more susceptible to diseases and other disturbances than natural forests.

Forest industries continue to adapt to changes in raw materials, namely the increased supply of plantation wood and of a wider range of species. Recently there has been an emergence of innovative ways to make better use of available supplies and of residues and waste. Such new developments include laminated veneer lumber, glue-laminated timbers and products based on wood fibres. In addition, modern technologies that reduce environmental impacts, through pollution control and other means, are now available to wood-processing industries (FAO 2001a).

In addition, many countries have imposed bans on timber harvesting, either to conserve their forest resources or as a response to devastating natural calamities (such as landslides and flooding) that are attributed, rightly or wrongly, to excessive commercial logging. The effects of logging bans differ widely with the type of policy, the products affected, market conditions, etc. In some situations, logging bans can shift harvesting pressure from one region to another, affect forest-dependent communities, increase or decrease employment opportunities, and disrupt markets (FAO 2001a). There is also increasing interest in forest certification which offers the potential to provide a market incentive for better forest management (see box).

Forest certification

Forest management certification has been strongly promoted by civil society over the past decade. It resulted from public disillusionment with the failure of governments and intergovernmental bodies to improve forest management or tackle deforestation effectively, and the lack of discrimination by forest industries about the source of their products.

Forest certification is a voluntary, market-based instrument that enables consumers to identify forest products with high environmental standards. By focusing on quality of forest management rather than the quality of forest products, it contributes to the growing trend to define production and process standards for social and environmental performance in resource management. Three main certification approaches are in operation:

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation - an international system which requires producers to meet a global set of Principles and Standards for good forest stewardship and provides a trademark for product labelling;
  • Certification of the Environmental Management System (EMS) under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14000 series; and
  • national certification schemes, some of which also incorporate elements of the FSC and ISO approaches.

By the end of 2000, about 2 per cent of the global forest had been certified for sustainable forest management. About 92 per cent of these forests were located in Canada, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the United States. At the same time, only four countries with tropical moist forests (Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico) had more than 100 000 ha of certified forests, with a combined total of 1.8 million ha. An increasing number of large retail 'do-ityourself'chains in Europe and the United States and some major house-builders in the United States have announced that they will favour certified wood products in the future. Buyers' groups that have committed themselves to trading only in products from certified sources are also on the increase.

Many more millions of hectares are in the process of certification although the concept is still hotly debated in many countries. Producer countries and trade groups tend to consider it restrictive whilst consumer countries with strong environmental lobbies have stressed its potential benefits. Although there is little evidence as yet about the local and market impacts of certification the contribution of this voluntary procedure to good policy is evident. Setting up the system has provided a forum for stakeholders to discuss broader forest policy issues. It has also been successful in moving decision-making powers away from some minorities with vested interests.

Sources: FAO 2001b and 2001b, Mayers and Bass 1999

Trade trends in forest products show an increased proportion of the total production of wood products being exported, increased domestic wood processing prior to export, increased trade among developing countries (particularly in Asia) and trade liberalization at a global level. At the same time some countries are introducing export restrictions to address national environmental and market problems. Forest trade and environment issues have been under consideration by both the World Trade Organization Committee on Trade and Environment and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests. Impacts of trade on some commercial tree species are currently under review by a working group of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (FAO 2001a).