Goal 1: At least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and strive to end natural forest loss by 2030

Key Messages

  • Globally, the annual net loss of natural forest area appears to be declining (a 25% decrease in 2015 compared to a 2000-10 baseline). However, there is no sign that the annual gross rate at which trees are being cleared or harvested is slowing (a 9% increase in 2011-14 compared to a 2001-10 baseline). This indicates that while there may be a significant increase in global regeneration, restoration and reforestation, tropical forest clearing continues to grow.
  • The 2015 update of gross tree cover loss is not yet available on Global Forest Watch (GFW), but a new weekly forest disturbance alert system added to GFW shows little progress toward slowing cumulative forest loss in Peru, Brazil, Kalimantan (Indonesia) and the Republic of Congo in 2015/2016.
  • For the period 2001-13, deforestation emissions reached an annual average of 2,270 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide (MtCO2), which makes deforestation a larger source of emissions than Russia’s economy-wide emissions in 2012.



The NYDF’s overarching goal, Goal 1, aims to halt natural forest loss by 2030, with at least a 50% reduction by 2020 as a milestone toward its target. While natural forests clearly do not include monoculture tree plantations, Goal 1 does not specify whether the aim is to reduce and then end gross or net loss of natural forests:

  • Ending gross natural forest loss means that, from year-to-year, there would be no measurable clearing of natural forest area.
  • Ending net natural forest loss means that the measurable area of natural forest regeneration/reforestation would be equal to or greater than the measurable area of gross natural forest loss over a specified time period.

The following two proxy indicators were used to monitor each type of loss:




We used data from Hansen et al. (2013, updated by Global Forest Watch)(2) for Indicator 1 and data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment (FAO FRA 2015)(3) for Indicator 2. Each data source uses a different method and both embody substantial uncertainties. Key differences between these two sources of global data were outlined in last year’s report.(4) We are not advocating the use of one over the other for the purpose of monitoring progress towards Goal 1. Instead, we suggest that despite uncertainties and limitations, the two data sets show directional trends that can serve as proxies for monitoring. Improvements in these data, as well as new data, should be considered as they emerge.




Since no new data have been released since 2015, this section provides a summary of the findings from last year’s report, and summarizes recent data developments.


Criterion 1: Rate of forest loss

Indicator 1.1: Annual gross forest loss

Satellite-based measurements show that the annual rate of gross tree cover loss has remained fairly steady from 2005 to 2011, and increased 9% in 2011-2014 compared to the 2001-2010 baseline (Figure 1).


Deforestation rate increases 16% in the Brazilian Amazon in 2015, but remains below historical levels

Although the global data sources used to develop proxy indicators for Goal 1 remain unchanged since last year, deforestation data for the Brazilian Amazon are released annually. According to Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased 16%(5) to 583,100 hectares for the year ending on July 31, 2015. Despite this recent uptick, the deforestation rate remains well below historical levels; in its Third National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Brazil reported a 79% reduction in deforestation in the Amazon between 2005 and 2015.(6)


Indicator 1.2: Annual net forest change

If natural forest regrowth is counted as offsetting natural forest clearing, the annual net loss of natural forest/tree cover area appears to be declining from a peak of 9.7 million hectares in 2005 to 6.65 million hectares in 2015 (a 31% decrease from 2005 and a 25% decrease compared to a 2000-10 historical baseline).

Taken together, Indicators 1.1 and 1.2 illustrate that achieving the goal of at least halving the rate of natural forest loss by 2020 will be challenging, but possible. The Hansen/GFW data shows no progress in reducing tree cover loss, but the FAO data demonstrate progress that may in fact achieve a halving in the rate of natural forest loss by 2020 if the current trajectory is maintained.

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Additional proposed Goal 1 proxy indicator

In a recent publication Zarin et al., 2016(7) proposed estimating carbon emissions resulting from gross tropical deforestation as an additional indicator for monitoring progress on Goal 1.

The authors established a 2001-13 emissions benchmark at 2,270 MtCO2 per year by combining the global tree cover loss and GFW woody biomass datasets. All or part of the global datasets were replaced or supplemented with national-level data for Brazil, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, and Mexico. These countries cumulatively accounted for two-thirds of the 2001-13 emissions benchmark. The study also outlined two scenarios for achieving the 50% emission reduction target by 2020, both of which emphasize the critical role of Brazil and the need to reverse the trends of increasing carbon emissions in many other tropical countries that have largely offset Brazil’s historical reductions.(7)

Moving forward, the emissions benchmark will be revised to incorporate new data where available, and carbon emissions from gross deforestation will be reported annually as a third NYDF progress indicator for Goal 1.




There is still no globally consistent data source that accurately estimates the extent or rate of loss of natural forests worldwide, and the global data sources used last year for Goal 1 remain unchanged. We therefore focus this update on five new developments that work in some way towards addressing specific limitations associated with Criterion 1 (annual gross forest/tree cover loss).


Data Development #1. Plantations mapped for seven tropical countries

Many countries report national statistics on the area of land in plantations, but their extent and locations are often not documented. GFW commissioned maps that delineate the location and extent of tree plantations in 2013/14 in seven tropical countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Peru, Colombia, Liberia) through visual interpretation of moderate- and high-resolution satellite imagery and other ancillary spatial information. These maps will be important inputs to refine post-2014 estimates of tropical deforestation rates by differentiating between tree cover losses occurring within natural forests versus loss associated with plantation harvests.


Data Development #2. Weekly forest disturbance alerts on Global Forest Watch complement annual tree cover loss estimates

In collaboration with Hansen et al., 2016(8) GFW has released a Landsat-based, weekly alert system for humid tropical forests that provides interim updates on forest disturbance events. The system is currently operational for Peru, Brazil, the Republic of Congo and Kalimantan (Indonesia). Although these alerts are not meant to replace annual estimates, they indicate that there has been little to no progress towards slowing the rate of loss or associated emissions in Peru, Brazil or the Republic of Congo in 2015/2016.(9)


Data Development #3. Following the Paris Agreement, nine more tropical countries submitted forest reference emission levels to the UNFCCC

Over the last ten years, significant progress in forest area change monitoring has been made across many tropical developing countries.(10) This is reflected by the increasing number of countries developing and submitting their forest reference (emission) levels to the UNFCCC, which include estimates of historical deforestation and emissions from deforestation (15 country submissions by November 2016).(11)