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The worldwide pace of deforestation has slowed down for the first time on record, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday.

On a total forest area of four billion hectares, the world lost 13 million hectares of forests per year between 2000 and 2010 — down from around 16 million in the 1990-2000 period, it said in a report.

“For the first time, we are able to show that the rate of deforestation has decreased globally as a result of concerted efforts taken both at local and international level,” said Eduardo Rojas, assistant director general of FAO’s forestry department, in a statement.

“New forests are being created. Either through the expansion of forests or more rapidly through the planting of trees” said Mette Loyche Wilkie, the Coordinator of the Assessment, at a press conference,

Planted forests now account for about 7.0 percent of global forests, said Wilkie.

Over the 10-year period, Asia which “registered a net gain of some 2.2 million hectares annually in the last decade, mainly because of large-scale afforestation programmes in China, India and Vietnam,” Rojas said.

But Rojas warned: “The rate of deforestation is still very high in many countries and the area of primary forest — forests undisturbed by human activity — continues to decrease”.

The highest annual losses were registered in South America, which lost four million hectares, and Africa, which lost 3.4 million hectares.

Forest area remained stable in North and Central America, while in Europe it continued to expand, although at a slower rate than in the past.

FAO also highlighted the fact the slowdown is helping to bring down carbon emissions.

“A lower deforestation rate and the establishment of new forests have helped bring down the high level of carbon emissions from forests caused by deforestation and forest degradation,” said Wilkie.

AFP, 25 March 2010