Nov 3, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Research: Protected land status determines a forest's fate

Picture of a map shoring forest coverage in South America
Data: Forest coverage and deforestation from Hansen, et al. 2020 version 1.8. Croplands from ESA Copernicus Land Cover 2019. Map: Carl Churchill, Woodwell Climate Research Center

With a global initiative on deforestation announced in Glasgow Monday, there's a spotlight shining on places like the Amazon.

  • Researchers say that land status, such as whether a swath of rainforest is within a protected reserve or recognized indigenous lands, can be the determining factor in deforestation.

Why it matters: Due to land clearing for agriculture or other uses, parts of the Amazon have already passed a tipping point from a net absorber of carbon emissions to a net source, and the pace of deforestation has increased in recent years, threatening the Paris Agreement's temperature targets.

Context: The map above, by cartographer Carl Churchill of the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, shows the Amazon ecoregion of South America.

  • Protected lands as of 2020 are seen in yellow. The area affected by deforestation in the last 20 years is visible in darker gray.
  • For comparison, rainforest cover as of the year 2000 is also included (green). 
  • Major cities in the Brazilian Amazon are also depicted, as well as a figure showing the Brazilian states the basin covers. 

The bottom line: Much of the deforestation in the Amazon during the past two decades has occurred outside protected lands.

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