The world lost an area of old-growth tropical rainforest the size of Switzerland last year as relentless deforestation continues despite promises to protect carbon sinks to combat climate change.
Despite a recent global pledge to reach zero deforestation by 2030, tropical forest loss last year exceeded 2021 levels, said a report by Global Forest Watch, part of the non-profit World Resources Institute (WRI).
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About 41,000sq km (15,800sq miles) of tropical rainforest was lost last year, most of it destroyed to make way for cattle and commodity crops, the analysis said on Tuesday.
It noted that the leaders of 145 countries vowed at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to halt and reverse forest loss by the end of the decade. However, “instead of consistent declines in primary forest loss to meet that goal, the trend is moving in the wrong direction”.
The Global Forest Watch analysis found deforestation in 2022 was more than 10,000sq km (3,900sq miles) in excess of what is needed to halt it entirely by 2030.
That is nearly a football pitch of mature tropical trees felled or burned every five seconds, night and day, and 10 percent more than the year before.
Gutted environmental policies
Tropical forests destroyed last year released 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, equivalent to the fossil fuel emissions of India – the world’s most populous nation.
Brazil accounted for 43 percent of the loss,with Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bolivia responsible for about 13 and nine percent, respectively.
“[The] 2022 numbers are particularly disheartening. We had hoped by now to see a signal in the data that we were turning the corner on forest loss,” said Francis Seymour, a WRI official.
Deforestation in Brazil surged during the four-year rule of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, and increased 15 percent last year compared to 2021.
Bolsonaro’s administration gutted environmental policies, turned a blind eye to illegal deforestation, and weakened protections of the rights of Indigenous peoples proven to be effective stewards of healthy forests.
Scientists fear climate change and deforestation combined could trigger the accelerating transition of the Amazon basin from tropical forest to savannah, which could profoundly disrupt weather not just in South America but across the globe.
Some 90 billion tonnes of CO2 is stored in the Amazon basin’s forest, twice the worldwide annual emissions from all sources.
The world experienced relentless loss of tropical forests in 2022, with tropical primary forests losing 11 football fields ⚽ of forest per minute.
— Global Forest Watch (@globalforests) June 27, 2023
Some positive news in the report found Indonesia and Malaysia managed to keep forest loss near a record low, continuing a multiyear streak of stamping down deforestation driven by oil palm plantations.
Strict Indonesian policies – such as a moratorium on new licences in primary forest and peatland – helped the turnabout.
Globally, vegetation and soil have consistently absorbed about 30 percent of CO2 pollution since 1960, even as those emissions increased by half.
“We are rapidly losing one of our most effective tools for combating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and supporting the health and livelihoods of millions of people,” said Mikaela Weisse, director of Global Forest Watch.