Apr 4, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Efforts to curb deforestation around the world are stalling, report finds

A quarry in the Cerro Blanco Forest the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador, in April 2023.

A quarry in the Cerro Blanco Forest the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador, in April 2023. Photo: Marcos Pin/AFP via Getty Images

The tropics lost the equivalent of 10 soccer (football) fields of forest per minute last year due to logging, human-set fires and climate change, according to a new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Why it matters: Declines in rainforest deforestation rates in Brazil and Colombia were counteracted by increases in other countries, which set the world further off track from meeting forest loss goals critical to curbing climate change.

By the numbers: In total, 9.1 million acres of primary tropical forest were destroyed last year, according to the report.

  • While that represented a 9% decrease from losses in 2022, it was essentially on par with 2021 and 2019 figures, indicating that efforts to reduce deforestation rates are stalling.
  • Forest loss last year generated 2.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which is almost equivalent to half of the annual fossil fuel emissions of the U.S.

Between the lines: A vast majority of tropical forest loss over the past decade has been from sources unrelated to fires, such as mechanical clearing for agriculture and logging, wind damage and river meandering.

Zoom in: The Amazon region overall experienced last year's largest deforestation decline, with 39% less primary forest loss in 2023 than in 2022.

  • The decline coincided with Brazil's transition from President Jair Bolsonaro to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has pledged to crack down on deforestation.
  • It's great news for the region, large swaths of which have been teetering toward certain climate tipping points. Beyond these points, the ecosystem will no longer support its current abundance of life and won't buffer Earth from climate change as well as it does now.
  • Colombia saw a 49% reduction in primary forest loss compared to 2022.

Zoom out: However, progress in those countries was offset by major forest losses in Bolivia, Laos and Nicaragua because of fires and the expansion of agricultural land.

What they're saying: "The world took two steps forward, two steps back when it comes to this past year's forest loss." Mikaela Weisse, the director of WRI's Global Forest Watch, said in a statement.

  • "We must learn from the countries that are successfully slowing deforestation," he added.

The big picture: Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of forest disturbances, such as the wildfires that erupted across Canada last year, drought or insect and invasive species outbreaks.

Go deeper: Amazon rainforest nearing tipping points, study finds

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