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The last two years recorded the largest global loss of forest area. The tropical forests in South America and Central Africa are disappearing with alarming speed. Bad news for everyone.
Forests give us shelter, food, energy security and water. About 80 percent of the world’s animal and plant species are in the forests.
The trees have a fundamental role in the purification of the air we breathe and are the largest deposits of terrestrial CO2. Only the oceans absorb more of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
When forests disappear, ecosystems leave with them. And this has disastrous consequences for everyone.
In spite of everything, we continue cutting more trees instead of planting them, warn the experts. In 2017, the world lost 29.4 million hectares in forests, territory equivalent to more than twice the size of Germany. This was only slightly lower than the 2016 record of 29.7 million hectares, according to new data from Global Forest Watch.
“The numbers are discouraging,” warns Frances Seymour, a forestry expert at the World Resources Institute (WRI) think tank in the United States, which oversees Global Forest Watch.
The soy industry, beef, palm oil and other commodities that are sold worldwide are the ones that are disappearing forests. “Much of the logging is illegal and is linked to corruption,” says Seymour.
Natural disasters such as forest fires and tropical storms, which are caused by climate change, play an increasingly important role in the loss of forests, he adds.
The record numbers of 2016 were caused by forest fires, both caused by humans to clear land, by high temperatures and drought, and by the El Niño phenomenon.
The fight against climate change
Forests are decisive in the fight against global warming. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and turn forests into a natural CO2 sink. Deforestation destroys that natural elimination of CO2. When the earth is cleared by the use of fire, it is equivalent to a double blow because this releases more CO2 into the air.
For this reason, the international community should give greater importance to forests, says Andreas Dahl-Jorgensen, deputy director of the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative. “We simply will not achieve the climate targets we agreed on in Paris, without a drastic reduction in tropical deforestation and forest clearing worldwide,” he warns.
This week, government officials, environmental organizations, indigenous leaders and industry representatives will gather at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum to discuss regulations and incentives to reduce deforestation. The objective of the conference is to identify the pending challenges of the United Nations program “Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (REDD), founded in 2008. The REDD program allows developing countries to receive compensation if they reduce their emissions to protect their forests.
Critics point out that current financial support through REDD is not enough to compete with the strong incentives of the logging market. Seymour, for his part, states that climate financing for forest conservation reached an average of 1,000 million dollars a year in the last decade, which he calls “banal” compared to “one hundred times more than that money. , available for agriculture and other investments that put forests at risk. “
Environmental and development groups are seeking to get stakeholder engagement in the Forum of Tropical Forests in Oslo, to get more money for the program and thus convince companies to stop buying products grown on recently deforested land.
Less and less tropical forests
The Global Forest Watch detected that forest clearing continues to predominate in tropical forests. In 2017, an equivalent of 40 tropical tree soccer fields per minute were deforested.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where part of the second largest tropical rainforest in the world is located, suffered a record loss of forest extension in 2017. The Central African country lost 1.47 million hectares of forests, due to agriculture, coal production and mining. While in Brazil, 4.5 million hectares of forests were destroyed; equivalent to 16 percent less than the record of 2016. Although that number still feels higher than any other year, according to the report.
Almost a third of the arboreal surface that Brazil lost in 2017 was from the Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world.
In Colombia, the Amazon also experienced a sharp increase in deforestation. More than 0.4 million hectares of forests were destroyed last year in this country. This represents 46 percent more than in 2016 and twice the average loss between 2001 and 2015.
The ongoing peace process in Colombia could have a negative effect on forests, according to Mikaela Weisse, a research analyst at WRI. “The demobilization of the FARC left a power vacuum that has led to illegal clearing, manual eradication of coca, mining and logging by armed groups, as well as unbridled land speculation,” Weisse adds.
Good news from Indonesia
Despite the negative trend in most tropical forests around the world, there is a positive story: Indonesia.
The Southeast Asian country managed to reduce deforestation by 60 percent in primary forests in 2017. Compared to 2016, when forest fires caused the greatest loss of recorded tree area. The drastic decrease is due to the fact that by 2017, El Niño had already passed, but also because of the government’s efforts to protect the forests. So says Putera Parthama, representative of the Ministry of Environment and Forests of Indonesia.
In 2016, the Indonesian government approved a moratorium on the destruction of peatland forests that prohibited any activity that could damage the country’s peat swamps. Last year, a forestry moratorium was also extended for another two years and invested in monitoring and prosecuting illegal deforestation activities.
“Indonesia is now the only country in the tropics with declining rates of deforestation,” says Parthama. “One year is not a trend, but we are committed to starting one,” he concludes.