Introduction

Conversion of forest to other land-use is an inherent feature in the history of human civilization. During the last 8000 years, the planet has lost ^40% of its original forest cover. By estimates, mature primary tropical forests once occupied 1600 x 106ha; today their area is about 900 x 106ha. Latin America and Asia have already lost 40% of their original forest cover, and Africa almost 50%. Most of this loss has occurred during the last two to three centuries. By the beginning of the third millennium, forests have completely disappeared in 25 countries, and forest of 57 countries covers less than 10% of their total land area. Historically, converting forest land to agricultural, infrastructural, industrial, and urban uses was ubiquitous process for development and progress. However, human interactions with forests have often resulted in conversion to unsustainable land uses that led to substantial environmental, social, and economic losses. During the last decades, deforestation and degradation of forests, mostly in the Tropics, have been continuing at an alarming rate. Increasing forest plantations do not change this trend - they account for less than 5% of the world's forest area. Between 1980 and 2005, the Tropics experienced much more intensive forest-cover loss than other regions, with the largest concentration of deforestation occurring in the Amazon Basin, Southeast Asia, and the Congo Basin.

Deforestation and other processes ofimpoverishment of the world's forests are one of the major drivers of undesirable transformation of the planet. It causes substantial losses of different nature (ecological, economic, social, etc.), dramatically accelerates global biogeochemical cycling, and negatively impacts the Earth system.

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