No End to Deforestation in Sight

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – A key moment at the COP26 climate meeting in 2021 was the adoption of the Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use. More than a hundred world leaders signed the document, promising to work together to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030” and commit almost USD 20 billion of public and private funds to that purpose.

    So, are we on track to end deforestation by 2030?

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    According to the latest findings of the Global Forest Review, produced by the World Resources Institute, it is hardly the case. Tropical forest loss, for one, worsened last year, despite stronger commitments. The comprehensive online report providing the latest information on the state of the world’s forests uses mostly data compiled by Global Forest Watch (GFW). Since its launch in 2014, GFW has been providing real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world by harnessing cutting-edge technology.

    The latest research suggests that global deforestation increased by 3,6% in 2022 compared with 2021. Admittedly, these figures are an estimate. Whereas the total loss of tree cover can be monitored relatively easily by analysing satellite images, measuring deforestation, defined as human-caused, permanent removal of natural forest cover, is more complicated. Scientists need to consider several other factors, such as forest losses due to fires, disease or storms, as well as sustainable production forests to arrive at their estimate.

    The numbers are sobering, nevertheless. “Tropical primary forest loss in 2022 totalled 4.1 million hectares, the equivalent of losing 11 football (soccer) fields of forest per minute. All this forest loss produced 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to India’s annual fossil fuel emissions,” write the report’s authors. “Indeed, humanity is not on track to meet major forest-related commitments,” they conclude.

    Looking at national statistics, two countries stand out – those with the most tropical forest, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Brazil, the rate of primary forest loss increased by 15% from 2021 to 2022, with the vast majority of primary forest loss happening in the Amazon. Non-fire-related losses, which in the Brazilian Amazon are most often due to clear-cut deforestation, reached the highest level since 2005. Hopefully, the re-election of President Lula will reverse that alarming trend.

    Meanwhile, Congo lost over half a million hectares in 2022, and the loss rate has continued to increase. Most of the primary forest loss happens near cyclical agricultural areas. The country’s growing population means increasing demand for food, leading to shorter fallow periods and the expansion of agriculture into primary forest. Reducing primary forest loss in the region thus remains a challenge.

    Other nations like Ghana and Bolivia have also experienced an increase in primary forest loss in recent years. In Ghana, most of the loss occurred within protected areas covering the country’s last patches of primary forest. Bolivia, one of the few countries not to sign on the Glasgow Leader’s Declaration in 2021, experienced a record-high level of primary forest loss in 2022, a 32% increase compared to 2021.

    There are positive examples, too. According to GFW data, Indonesia and Malaysia have managed to keep rates of primary forest loss near record-low levels. In Indonesia, government policies and corrective actions have contributed to the reduction, in line with reaching the country’s target of Net Sink from the forestry and other land use sectors by 2030. Corporate and government action also appear to be contributing to levelling off primary forest loss in Malaysia in recent years.

    “While some countries have shown promising results to reduce forest loss, others have seen continued activities and policies that are causing acceleration of deforestation in critical areas,” conclude the researchers. “The lack of progress in slowing forest loss in the tropics underscores the need to move beyond political commitments to action. Protecting forests remains one of the most effective ways to mitigate global climate change and protect the people and biodiversity that depend on them — but time is running out.”

    Image courtesy of Renaldo Matamoro on Unsplash
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