‘Shocking’ new report shows deforestation in the Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg

Amazon on fire
Tracy Keeling

A new report shows “shocking and tragic” levels of deforestation around the globe. In fact, as the Guardian reports, the data shows that the world is losing areas of forest the size of the UK each year.

All talk, little action

Forests play a major role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. They also provide habitat for vast amounts of the world’s wildife, ensuring the ecosystems on which all life depends – including human – remains intact. That’s why, back in 2014, world powers pledged to half tropical deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030 in the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF).

But according to a coalition of organisations known as the NYDF Assessment Partners, we’re getting nowhere fast with those aims. The group, which assesses progress of the NYDF each year, says:

Start your day with The Canary News Digest

Fresh and fearless; get excellent independent journalism from The Canary, delivered straight to your inbox every morning.




Five years later, there is little evidence that these goals are on track, and achieving the 2020 NYDF targets is likely impossible. …

So far, most restoration has taken place outside of natural forest. Forestlands continue to be converted to other commercial land uses, indicating that the shortterm profits of forest conversion still trump the long-term benefits of forest conservation and restoration in many land-use decisions.

The coalition reports that “an area of tree cover the size of the United Kingdom” disappeared, on average, each year between 2014 and 2018. And while primary forest loss in Indonesia slowed down “considerably” in 2017/18, the last five years has seen “hotspots” of tree cover loss in Africa. However, the group says Latin America fares the worst:

In June 2019 alone, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 88 percent compared to the same month last year.

What goes around

Furthermore, the coalition detected that the loss of “irreplaceable” primary forests increased by 44% in comparison to the period of 2002-13. Primary forest is particularly important to the absorption of carbon. As it states:

On average, annual tropical tree cover loss between 2014 and 2018 emitted 4.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year — more than all of the European Union’s (EU) 2017 greenhouse gases emissions. Nearly half of these emissions occurred within humid tropical primary forests.

Essentially, these forests act as a ‘sink’ for carbon. Without them, there’s more carbon in the atmosphere, heating the planet. And that warming then puts the forests further at risk through, for example, fires. It’s a vicious cycle. As a reader in environmental science and policy at the University of Bristol, Jo House, said:

This natural sink provided by forests is at risk from the duel compounding threats of further deforestation and future climate change. The continued loss of primary forests, at ever-increasing rates, despite their incalculable value and irreplaceability, is both shocking and tragic.

The house is on fire, act like it

At the beginning of the year, climate activist Greta Thunberg stood in front of today’s world leaders in politics, business, and more to tell them “our house is on fire”. Although there are literal fires consuming forests this statement relates well to, she meant it in a wider sense. The world is on a precipice. We have around a decade to pull our planet’s degradation back from the point of no return, according to the UN.

But we’re not acting like the house is on fire. In 2018, for example, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) signed a palm-oil friendly trade deal with Indonesia. Palm oil is a big driver of deforestation. Despite dissatisfaction among some members, the EU is also still considering a massive trade deal with South American countries, including Brazil. And although, as this report states, meat production via agriculture is “the largest driver of deforestation”, governments in the global North – where the vast majority of meat consumption occurs – are doing very little to encourage citizens to transfer to a predominantly plant-based diet. Meanwhile, people in the global South face life-threatening food insecurity as they’re at the coal-face of the climate crisis.

As Thunberg says, we need to start acting like we’re in an emergency. Because that’s exactly what we face.

Featured image via Guardian News/YouTube

Since you're here ...

We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.

The Canary Support