Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has reached a 15-year high, data from the country’s space agency has shown.
A report published by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) on Thursday (November 18th. 2021) estimated that 13,235 square kilometers (8,224 square miles) of forest was lost between August 2020 and July 2021. That’s an increase of 22 percent from the previous year.
This is just an example of how much forest is being lost every single day around the world.
Here is a fact – the planet’s forests are under threat. Some 36 football fields of forests are hacked, burned, and destroyed every minute. With each forest clearing, about 135 species of animals, plants, and insects lost a day. Although the rate of loss has slowed over the last 30 years, according to the recent State of the World’s Forests report, it hasn’t decreased enough — over 420 million hectares have been destroyed since 1990.
Of that, around 80 million acres were ecologically important primary forests. And another 100 million acres are directly threatened by forest fires, pests, diseases, invasive species, drought, and extreme weather events. Deforestation is also responsible for 13 percent of our yearly carbon emissions. All of these compounding issues are driven and amplified by climate change.
Here is another fact. According to Statista, humans have released approximately 2,500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) emissions into the atmosphere since 1850 from fossil fuel combustion and land-use. Land-use activities include: Timber Harvesting and Land Conversion as well natural disturbance such as Forest Fires and Insect Infestation.
Here is a graph which is designed to illustrate the contribution of top 10 worse emitting countries to global CO2 emissions:
In previous studies, historical cumulative emissions have mainly been calculated from fossil fuel combustion and cement production. However, when land-use emissions are taken into account, countries such as Brazil and Indonesia rise up the rankings. Both these countries experience massive levels of deforestation, mainly for cattle pastures in Brazil and palm oil plantations in Indonesia.
Forests play a critical role in combating against climate change. Trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) which is a greenhouse gas (GHG) and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Trees serve as the ultimate carbon capture and storage devices like carbon sinks through photosynthesis. The entire woodland ecosystem plays a huge role in locking up carbon, including the living wood, roots, leaves, deadwood, surrounding soils and its associated vegetation. When trees are cut down and burned or allowed to rot, their stored carbon is released into the air as CO2 which is how deforestation and forest degradation contribute to global warming.
Forests absorb globally almost 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 every year which represents one-third of the total CO2 release from burning fossil fuels. At the same time around 25 percent of global emissions come from the land sector, the second largest source of GHG emissions after the energy sector and about half of these emissions come from deforestation and forest degradation.
Nevertheless, forests are considered to be one of the most important solutions to addressing the effects of climate change. It’s estimated that nearly two billion hectares of degraded land across the world – an area the size of South America – offer opportunities for restoration. Increasing and maintaining forests is therefore an essential solution to climate change.
It is also recognized that halting the loss and degradation of forest ecosystems and promoting their restoration have the potential to contribute over one-third of the total climate change mitigation that scientists say is required by 2030 to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
It is interesting to learn that forests cover 31 percent of the land area on planet and 1.6 billion people globally including over 2,000 indigenous cultures rely on forests for their livelihoods, many of whom are the world’s poorest. Forests:
- Provide US$ 75–100 billion per year in goods and services such as clean water and healthy soils;
- Are home to 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity;
- Are tropical rainforests, like those in the Amazon which play a vital role in the water cycle by providing rain to the region. It is also estimated that rainforests contain more than half of anti-cancer plants identified so far;
- Are Eighty percent of land-dwelling species established homes in forests and the biodiversity ensures global food security and helps alleviate poverty during times of crisis; and
- Also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink—soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns.
Nonetheless, forests around the world are under threat, jeopardizing these associated benefits. The threats manifest themselves in the form of deforestation and forest degradation.
According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), deforestation and forest degradation are the biggest threats to forests worldwide:
- Deforestation occurs when forests are converted to non-forest uses, such as agriculture and road construction; and
- Forest degradation occurs when forest ecosystems lose their capacity to provide important goods and services to people and nature.
It’s worth keeping in mind that when agriculture, mining, urban development or other land uses replace forest, the land is said to have experienced deforestation. By contrast, degradation is a gradual process through which a forest’s biomass declines its species composition changes or its soil quality declines. Degradation often precedes deforestation.
According to the Resource Library – Encyclopedia Entry, deforestation has greatly altered landscapes around the world. As a matter of fact, much of Earth’s farmland was once forests:
- About 2,000 years ago, 80 percent of Western Europe was forested; Today the figure is 34 percent;
- In North America, about half of the forests in the eastern part of the continent were cut down from the 1600s to the 1870s for timber and agriculture; and
- China has lost great expanses of its forests over the past 4,000 years and now just over 20 percent of it is forested.
Here are the main causes of deforestation:
- INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE:
Industrial agriculture is the large-scale, intensive production of crops and animals, often involving chemical fertilizers on crops or the routine, harmful use of antibiotics in animals (as a way to compensate for filthy conditions, even when the animals are not sick). It may also involve crops that are genetically modified, heavy use of pesticides, and other practices that deplete the land, mistreat animals, and increase various forms of pollution.
Industrial agriculture accounts for around 85 percent of deforestation worldwide. While this can mostly be attributed to meat production (Beef in particular), soy and palm oil plantations follow closely behind as causes for deforestation.
Meat producers clear vast swaths of forest to graze their livestock, but beef cows don’t just eat grass — in fact, 80 percent of all soybeans grown go directly into feed for cattle, poultry, and pigs. And palm oil, an ingredient that’s as ubiquitous as it is destructive, is a major contributor to deforestation in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
2. TIMBER LOGGING:
In the 19th century logging was a hand process, and in some parts of the world it has remained one. In colder regions, trees are felled by ax in winter and conveyed by a sled drawn by oxen, mules, or horses to a frozen river. After the spring thaw, the logs are floated downriver to a sawmill.
logging, process of harvesting trees, sawing them into appropriate lengths (bucking), and transporting them (skidding) to a sawmill. The different phases of this process vary with local conditions and technology.
Around 380,000 hectares of forest are cut every year to meet the incredible global demand for wood and wood products, accounting for around 60 percent of degradation. Another 25 percent of forest is degraded for fuelwood and charcoal. From clear cuts to massive logging roads providing access to previously untouched areas, these degraded forests are much more vulnerable to conversion to other land uses like mining, agriculture, and settlement.
Mining is defined as extracting metals and minerals from the Earth, or the process of placing explosives where they will explode. An example of mining is a machine pulling diamonds out of an inactive volcano. An example of mining is burying land mines in a field.
Thanks to an ever-increasing demand for minerals, mining in tropical forests is on the rise. And because large-scale mining is an intensive, industrial undertaking, it necessitates the development of massive infrastructure, which only amplifies the degradation.
4. EXPANSION & INFRASTRUCTURE:
Expansion and infrastructure is defined as:
- The basic structure of an organization, system, etc.; and
- The stock of fixed capital equipment in a country, including factories, roads, schools, etc., considered as a determinant of economic growth. Cyberspace infrastructure.
As the tide of human population growth washes over the land, large swaths of forest get cleared to make way for the expansion of cities and settlements. And with these settlements come even more infrastructure and expansion.
5. CLIMATE CHANGE:
Climate change is defined as a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric CO2 produced by the use of fossil fuels.
Climate change is a leading cause of deforestation. Extreme weather events like wildfires (which are responsible for an estimated 10 percent of degradation annually), droughts, and storm surges destroy millions of hectares of forest every year — and their intensity is only increasing with global warming. But the trouble doesn’t stop there: After the last fire has been put out, the gates open wide to accommodate pests, diseases, and invasive species that make themselves at home, decimating whatever remains.
There were two major commitments concerning deforestation made during the COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021:
- The Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use, was signed by more than 130 countries promising to “Work collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”; and
- A new Forest, agriculture and commodity trade (FACT) statement was jointly led by the UK and Indonesia and aims to support sustainable trade between commodity-producing and -consuming countries.
Here is the strategy defined to accomplish those two commitments:
- Conserve forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration;
- Facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development, and sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation;
- Reduce vulnerability, build resilience and enhance rural livelihoods, including through empowering communities, the development of profitable, sustainable agriculture, and recognition of the multiple values of forests, while recognising the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as local communities, in accordance with relevant national legislation and international instruments, as appropriate;
- Implement and, if necessary, redesign agricultural policies and programmes to incentivise sustainable agriculture, promote food security, and benefit the environment;
- Reaffirm international financial commitments and significantly increase finance and investment from a wide variety of public and private sources, while also improving its effectiveness and accessibility, to enable sustainable agriculture, sustainable forest management, forest conservation and restoration, and support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities;
- Facilitate the alignment of financial flows with international goals to reverse forest loss and degradation, while ensuring robust policies and systems are in place to accelerate the transition to an economy that is resilient and advances forest, sustainable land use, biodiversity and climate goals.
The strategy was supported with the following financial global pledges:
- $12bn in public funding to “Support work to protect, restore and sustainably manage forests” from 12 countries, to be delivered over 2021-2025;
- $7.2bn in private funding from corporate and philanthropic funds;
- At least $1.5bn earmarked specifically for protecting the forests of the Congo Basin;
- At least $1.7bn pledged towards supporting Indigenous Peoples and local communities and advancing their land tenure rights; and
- A commitment from the CEOs of more than 30 financial institutions to divest from activities linked to commodity-driven deforestation.
The following new endorsements since 10 November 2021 included The Holy See, Nicaragua, Singapore, Turkmenistan:
- Percent of forest covered by endorsers: 90.94;
- Hectares of Forest covered by endorsers: 3,691,510,640; and
- Square Miles of forest covered by endorsers: 14,252.996.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that if the world wanted to limit the temperature rise to 1.5C by 2050, an extra 1 billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees would be needed.
The good news is that researchers say an area the size of the US is available for planting trees around the world, and this could have a dramatic impact on climate change. The study shows that the space available for trees is far greater than previously thought, and would reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by 25 percent.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 10 January 2022