U.N. calls on Asian nations to end deforestation

A man chops timber illegally at the forest reserve in Bojonegoro, Indonesia's East Java province December 3, 2007. REUTERS/Sigit Pamungkas

MANILA (Reuters) - The United Nations has called on more Asian leaders to agree to a plan to end deforestation by 2020 to slow down the destruction of plants and animals, a top official said on Friday.

About 80 percent of the world’s known biodiversity could be found in forests, where about 1.6 billion people also depend for their survival, Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive director of U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), told a news conference in Manila.

“The project to stop deforestation by 2020 is feasible, it’s doable,” Djoghlaf said.

In a meeting in Germany in May, 65 countries committed to support a call by the Worldwide Fund for Nature for a zero net deforestation by 2020, but only two -- Cambodia and Vietnam -- were from Southeast Asia.

Djoghlaf said the world was losing around 13 million hectares of its forest cover every year, about the size of 36 football fields a minute. About 95 countries have totally lost their forests, he said.

In Southeast Asia, forest fires destroyed about 10 million hectares between 1997 and 2006. More trees were being felled due to shifting agricultural practices, illegal lumber trade and large-scale mining, he said.

At the current rate of deforestation, said Rodrigo Fuentes, head of Southeast Asia’s Center for Biodiversity, the region would lose three-fourths of its 47 million hectares of forest and up to 42 percent of its biodiversity by 2100.

Djoghlaf and Fuentes said the destruction of biodiversity would also impact global security and the world economy due to rising competition for scarce food and fuel resources.

Reporting by Manny Mogato; editing by Carmel Crimmins and Roger Crabb