A vast tract of land dominated by trees is usually called a forest. However, the precise definition of a forest varies in different parts of the world based on different factors like the area of land, density of trees, etc. As per data from the FAO, about 30% of the land area of the world was covered by forests in 2006. The forests of the world account for 80% of the plant biomass of the planet. Forests are essential to life on Earth and perform several vital functions that help maintain the ecological balance that is necessary to sustain life. Forests help maintain the water cycle, sequester carbon, provide forest products, support the livelihood of millions, and serve as the home of wild flora and fauna.
With the growth in human population and technological developments, forest cover across the world has greatly shrunk. According to official data, in the past 25 years, our planet has lost forest cover equivalent to 1,000 football grounds each hour. 1.3 million square km of forest land has been lost since 1990. The dire state of the planet’s green cover has thus triggered massive reforestation campaigns in many parts of the world. Thus, although forest cover continues to decrease, the positive effects of afforestation and reforestation have been clearly observed in several parts of the world where such projects have been executed. Here, we discuss the forest cover of the continents of the world.
Continents By Forest Cover
Despite being the sixth largest continent with an area of 10,180,000 sq km, Europe has the largest forest cover among the continents of the world. The forest cover of Europe is 1,015 million hectares, as of 2015. Thus, the continent has a forest cover of 1.42 hectares per capita. The Russian Federation accounts for 81% of the continent’s forest area. The forest area of the continent has exhibited a steady rise of 0.08% annually. Over two-thirds of Europe’s forest cover is, however, semi-natural. Northern and eastern Europe has larger areas of virgin forest cover than the western parts of the continent.
With a forest cover of 842 million hectares, South America ranks second in terms of forest cover by continent. However, the forest cover in South America is facing a great threat from the agriculture industry operating in the country, especially animal agriculture. Mining activities have also led to the clearance of vast tracts of forested land in the continent. Brazil has the highest forest cover in the continent. Sadly, the Amazon rainforest of Brazil is experiencing a period of degradation and loss. Animal agriculture is considered to be the single major cause of this loss of forest in the country.
Forest cover in North and Central America combined is 750 million hectares which is an increase from 705.4 million hectares in 2010. Forests in North America alone represent around 16% of the total forest area in the world. Canada accounts for about 50% of the region’s forest cover while the US has 35% of the forested area of North America. The distribution of forests, however, varies considerably between different parts of these countries.
Africa, the second largest continent by area has a forest cover of only 624 million hectares. A shocking data from FAO reveals that primary forests in the continent are being cleared at a rate of 4 million hectares each year. In a period of only 15 years (1980 to 1995), over 10% of the forest cover of Africa has been lost. Thus, protecting the vulnerable forests of Africa is extremely important. Asia too suffers from heavy loss of forests and despite being the biggest continental landmass, Asia’s forest cover is only 593 million hectares. In Asia, Laos, Bhutan, and Brunei have the highest forest cover.
What Needs To Be Done To Protect The Global Forest Cover?
Today, there are several international and national organizations across the world that are engaged in creating awareness about the need to protect and conserve the world’s forests. Curbing the illegal felling of trees, increasing the extent of protected forest areas, planting of trees, etc., are some of the steps taken towards the protection of the world’s depleting forest cover.