A study, published by the Global Forest Watch (GFW), from the University of Maryland has revealed a devastating reality for some of the world’s most valuable tropical rainforests.
According to new satellite data, a football-pitch size patch of tropical rainforests was lost every six seconds in 2019. In total, this amounted to 11.9m hectares of tree cover lost, which is roughly three times the size of Switzerland.
Around one third of loss came from humid, tropical primary or forests. This is categorised as a forest of significant age that has gone undisturbed for a long time and thus developed unique ecological features important to carbon storage and biodiversity. GFW say that if these kinds of forests are damaged it could “take decades or even millennia to grow back”.
With efforts to curb the rate of deforestation across the globe, the primary forest loss isn’t at its record high, however, remains significantly on the rise.
The loss mapped in 2019 shows an increase of 2.8% when compared to the previous year. Researchers say that the carbon emissions from the loss is equivalent to that of 400m cars.
The hardest hit countries span South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Under President Jair Bolsonaro’s leadership, deforestation has reached soaring levels in Brazil, devasting not only the Amazon but the indigenous communities that call it home. The study discloses that the South American nation accounted for the largest loss of tree cover with around 1.3m hectares lost in 2019.
According to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the first trimester of 2020 showed a 50% increase in deforestation compared to 2019. This was mostly due to land being illegally cleared by farmers and loggers for agricultural or land use.
Bolsonaro has made it clear that he is in favour of agri-business as a means of boosting the Brazilian economy – as reflected in the rolling back of important environmental agencies and protections.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The DRC lost around 475,000 hectares last year, a slight decrease from 2018 but still the third-highest total annual loss on record.
The loss primarily stems from agricultural areas that are used to feed the local communities. However, the study notes that there is emerging evidence that the loss could also be at the hands of large-scale commercial logging, mining and plantations.
In some good news, Indonesia has shown a decrease in deforestation for the third year in a row, accounting for a 5% decrease in 2019 in comparison to 2018.
This has been attributed to the new policies set out by the Indonesian government which include increasing the presence of law enforcement to prevent individuals setting forest fires.
Last year, Australia commanded global attention as the world watched in horror as bushfires overwhelmed the nation.
While Australia isn’t in the tropics, the study remarks that 2019 was the worst year on record for the country. The extent of the damage is still unknown as the data doesn’t include 2020 statistics. However, around 1.25 billion animals have reportedly lost their lives to the unprecedented fires along with thousands of homes.