10 football fields a minute cut down in 2023

  • Post last modified:April 4, 2024
  • Reading time:7 mins read

On Thursday 4 April, researchers delivered more damning news on the biodiversity crisis. While Amazon deforestation rates have plummeted in Brazil, elsewhere, capitalist extractivism continues clearing biodiverse tropical forests at alarming rates.

Tropical deforestation still surging

Researchers from the World Resources Institute (WRI) Global Forest Watch initiative and the University of Maryland reported that during 2023, people wiped around 3.7 million hectares of primary tropical forest off the Earth. The land area equates to nearly the size of Sweden and amounts to the loss of ten football fields of old-growth tropical forest every minute.

Tropical forests absorb carbon and are a vital ally in the fight against the climate crisis. In fact, studies have previously estimated that they harbour around a quarter of all the carbon stored on land. On top of this, the ecosystem is crucial for global biodiversity. A 2022 analysis found that tropical forests are home to over 62% of global vertebrate species. That is, a significant proportion of all animals with back bones including fishes, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians inhabit this biome. Alongside this, of the world’s 300 million Indigenous people, around 50 million live in or depend on tropical forests.

Given all this, world governments have enacted various laws and initiatives to stem the rates of deforestation. For instance, in May 2023, the European Union adopted a “groundbreaking” new law to turn the tide on forest destruction.

Specifically, the European Union Deforestation Free Regulation (EUDR) aims to prevent the import of commodities that resulted in deforestation after December 2020.

Meanwhile, in August, Amazon rainforest nations signed a declaration committing to slow deforestation in the region.

However, the WRI and Maryland researchers said that high rates of tropical forest loss remain “stubbornly consistent” despite nations pledging in recent years to protect these critical environments. As the Canary has pointed out previously, both the EU regulation and the Belém declaration have significant loopholes – and this new report is now laying bare the result.

“Two steps back”

The 2023 figures represent a 9% decline in forest loss compared to 2022. Despite this, in general, researchers said that the rates have barely wavered from the highs of recent years.

Director of research non-profit WRI’s Global Forest Watch programme Mikaela Weisse said that:

The world took two steps forward, two steps back when it comes to this past year’s forest loss

The researchers used satellite imagery to conduct its analysis. They focused on tropical forests because of their particular vulnerability to deforestation and capacity to store carbon, and considered various causes of destruction including farming, logging and fires.

Notably, Weisse said that they found that “impressive” declines in Brazil and Colombia were “largely counteracted by increases” in tropical forest felling elsewhere.

For instance, Brazil cut Amazon deforestation by 36% in 2023, bringing rates to its lowest level since 2015. This vast rainforest stores the equivalent of around 20 years of emissions of carbon dioxide. Of course, the drop in deforestation has coincided with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva first year in office.

As the Canary previously reported, the left-wing president has taken action to restore environmental and Indigenous protections after the ecologically disastrous administration of his predecessor.

At the same time however, researchers identified deterioration in the Cerrado, situated at the heartland of Brazil’s agriculture industry. The Cerrado is a vast tropical savanna, south of the Amazon rainforest. They found that deforestation had increased by 6%. Primarily, they put this down to the fact that soy production:

has more than doubled over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, the researchers also noted increased deforestation in the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland. In this instance, researchers attributed this rise to a spike in wildfires, partly caused by a climate crisis-fueled megadrought.

Losses elsewhere

Global director of forests at WRI Rod Taylor said that:

The 2023 data shows that countries can cut rates of forest loss when they muster the political will to do so. But we also know that progress can be reversed when political winds change

Moreover, the researchers suggested that their results showed that:

the frontiers of forest loss are shifting

For instance, the soy industry’s conversion of forest for its growing industry caused deforestation to hit a record high for a third year running in Bolivia.

Additionally, agriculture also played a major role in sharp increases in forest destruction in other places too. In Laos, investments from China is putting land under pressure. As a result, agribusiness drove up deforestation rates by 47% on an already record high in 2022. Notably, the research said that:

In 2023 alone, 1.9% of Laos’ remaining primary forests were lost, a rate of loss that’s 5 times faster than Brazil’s proportional to its forest area.

Meanwhile, cattle ranching, agriculture, and gold mining drove 60,000 hectares of deforestation in Nicaragua in 2023. This is equivalent to 4.2% of the country’s primary forest.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to the enormous Congo Basin, a significant carbon sink crucial to fighting the climate crisis. In 2023, it lost more than half a million hectares of primary forest for another year in a row.

Off track

Ultimately, the researchers said the amount of forest lost in 2023 represented the equivalent of 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This is nearly half of US annual emissions from fossil fuels.

Taylor said this was the second year of full annual data on forest loss since more than 140 countries agreed at the COP26 climate summit to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

However, he noted that deforestation in 2023 was almost 2 million hectares above the level needed to meet this target by the end of the decade:

Are we on track to halt deforestation by 2030? The short answer? No… we are far off track and trending in the wrong direction

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Feature image via kevincure/Wikimedia, resized to 1200 by 900, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Source link