Rate of worldwide forest loss is truly shocking

deforestationIn a warming world where we are pumping out vast quantities of CO2, trees truly do matter. They absorb CO2 sucking it out of the air and in return they emit oxygen.

Tree loss is a huge deal because as we reduce forest we are in effect increasing CO2. Once gone, the CO2 that they would have absorbed remains.

Here is the shocking truth regarding what is currently happening. The Guardian heading was this …


Let me put that number is several other ways.

  • Each and every single day during 2017, an area of forest the size of New York was lost
  • Each and every 100 days during 2017, an area of forest the size of Scotland was lost

There are several rather obvious consequences …

  • It greatly impacts our ability to tackle Climate Change
  • It greatly impacts wildlife habitat and is leading to a massive decline in biodiversity.

What is the source for this data and how can they really be sure?

The data itself comes from a global satellite survey. The folks that monitor and compile the details have just formally issued the official numbers for 2017.

Global Forest Watch report that for 2017 the official loss of forest has been a total of 29.4 million hectares. It is the second highest rate of loss every recorded since they began collection statistics in 2001. Here are some further details …

Global Forest Watch is in fact an open source web-application that presents data collected by the World Resources Institute, a non-profit that partners with corporations such as Google and also academics such as the University of Maryland.

Global Forest Watch Blog – Deforestation is Accelerating

Their blog posting published on 27th June asks a rather important question … 

Despite a decade of intensifying efforts to slow tropical deforestation, last year was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016.  The tropics lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years.

In addition to harming biodiversity and infringing on the rights and livelihoods of local communities, forest destruction at this scale is a catastrophe for the global climate. New science shows that forests are even more important than we thought in curbing climate change.  In addition to capturing and storing carbon, forests affect wind speed, rainfall patterns and atmospheric chemistry. In short, deforestation is making the world a hotter, drier place.

In light of these high stakes, those of us in “Forestry World” who dedicate our professional lives and personal passions to saving the rainforest need to pause and reflect:  If the indicators are going in the wrong direction, are we doing something wrong?

Rather obviously if we have a brick on the accelerator and a feather on the brake, then clearly we have a huge problem.

Why this is happening is not exactly a mystery.

Most of the loss is illegal, but also motivated by a supply chain that seeks more and more soy, beef, palm oil and other commodities. There are however success stories that serve as illustrations of how to tackle the problem …

Brazil, for example, reduced large-scale deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent from 2004-2012 by increasing law enforcement, expanding protected areas, recognizing indigenous territories, and applying a suite of carrots and sticks to reign in uncontrolled conversion to agriculture, even while increasing production of cattle and soy.

That might perhaps be a tad simplistic because other factors do also play a huge role. In Colombia, the 46% increase in tree loss appears to be related to their initiative to reduct conflict by opening up large areas of forest for development. The doubling of Brazils tree loss cover (when compared to 2015) is very much down to forest fires.

There are Initiatives

The problem with an initiative is that while on the surface it might look good, if it does not actually compete with the competing incentive that drives tree loss then it will not work …

One of the key strategies for aligning national priorities with anti-deforestation actions started a decade ago. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhancing forest carbon stocks, or REDD+, is a framework endorsed by the Paris Agreement on climate change that encourages rich countries to pay developing countries for limiting deforestation and forest degradation. Unfortunately, the volume of REDD+ funding on offer (about a billion dollars per year) remains trivial compared to the $777 billion provided since 2010 for financing agriculture and other land sector investments that put forests at risk.  This is surely one reason why domestic coalitions for change in countries participating in REDD+ have been unable to overcome competing coalitions for deforestation-as-usual. 

Are we truly F**ked?

If the ongoing trend continues, then yes, clearly we are.

There are solutions, we simply need to scale them up. What can change things is the creation of the political will to execute meaningful actions. Highlighting what is going on on a global scale and also locally within the key regions helps to inspire and motivate the desperately needed political will to take every increasing steps. For example …

Brazil pioneered a system of monitoring deforestation by satellite. The public disclosure of that data was key to generating political will and the information necessary for fighting illegal clearing. Now, remote-sensing tools are helping communities and law enforcement officials around the world to detect and respond to illegal deforestation in near-real time. For example, Peru’s Ministry of Environment distributes weekly deforestation alerts to more than 800 government agencies, companies and civil society groups, which led to several prosecutions in 2017.

International cooperation on law enforcement can also create domestic incentives for forestry sector reform. In late 2016, Indonesia became the first country to receive a license to export to the European Union timber verified as legally harvested. By ensuring that its timber was harvested legally, Indonesia secured access for its forest products in a lucrative international market.

Indonesia has also witnessed the application of a new generation of transparency tools to fight deforestation. For example, in 2017, civil society groups used publicly available databases on corporate finance and governance to uncover monopolistic practices and non-compliance with plantation regulations among 15 companies in the palm oil sector. They then shared their findings with Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission and other government authorities in a position to respond with policy or legal action.

Finally, there’s increased action at the sub-national level. Dozens of governors and district heads in forest-rich jurisdictions around the world have committed to low-emissions development. For example, the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso launched a “Produce, Conserve, and Include” strategy to end illegal deforestation while promoting sustainable agriculture. Some of the companies that have made anti-deforestation commitments are considering preferential sourcing of commodities from such jurisdictions as a way of both reducing risk and encouraging continued progress toward better land-use management.

While the numbers are indeed dire, hope persists, we have not given up.

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