Rainforests, the Size of Switzerland Destroyed

Earth lost a significant area of carbon-absorbing rainforests, with an area larger than Switzerland or the Netherlands destroyed, primarily for cattle ranching and commodity crops. This information comes from an analysis of satellite data released by the World Resources Institute.

The data reveals that approximately one football pitch of mature tropical trees was either felled or burned every five seconds throughout the year. This relentless destruction occurred day and night, resulting in a 10% increase compared to the previous year, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

THE LOSS EVERY MINUTE

The total loss of tropical primary forests in 2022 amounted to 4.1 million hectares. This is equivalent to losing 11 football fields of forest every minute. The destruction of these forests contributed to the emission of 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide, comparable to India’s annual fossil fuel emissions. This loss of carbon-absorbing vegetation exacerbates the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change.

“Since the turn of the century, we have seen a haemorrhaging of some of the world’s most important forest ecosystems despite years of efforts to turn that trend around,” Mikaela Weisse, director of WRI’s Global Forest Watch told journalists in a briefing.

“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.”

BRAZILIAN AMAZON SEES HIGHEST RATE 

In 2022, Brazil maintained its position as the country with the highest tropical primary forest loss, accounting for 43% of the global total. The loss of 1.8 million hectares of primary forest in Brazil resulted in the emission of 1.2 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide. This is 2.5 times Brazil’s annual fossil fuel emissions.

The impact of forest loss in the Amazon goes beyond carbon emissions. The loss not only affects regional rainfall patterns and may lead to a tipping point where the majority of the ecosystem transforms into a savannah-like landscape.

Within Brazil, primary forest loss accelerated in the Western Amazon region. In 2022, the states of Amazonas and Acre experienced record levels of primary forest loss. Amazonas state, home to more than half of Brazil’s intact forests, saw its rate of primary forest loss nearly double in just three years. Large -scale clearings, often for establishing cattle pastures, along existing highways led to forest losses in this region.

In Brazil as a whole, the rate of primary forest loss increased by 15% from 2021 to 2022, with the majority of the loss occurring in the Amazon region. Non-fire-related losses, mainly caused by clear-cut deforestation, reached the highest level since 2005 in the Brazilian Amazon. Several threatened Indigenous territories in the Brazilian Amazon also experienced primary forest loss in 2022. Territories such as Apyterewa, Karipuna, and Sepoti witnessed record levels of forest loss due to land invasions.

Additionally, Yanomami Indigenous territory saw the loss of primary forest resulting from mining activities. Despite these losses, Indigenous territories in Brazil have a significantly lower deforestation rate compared to similar lands managed by other actors and serve as vital carbon sinks in the Amazon region.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO REMAINS PERSISTENTLY HIGH

In 2022, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) lost over half a million hectares of primary forest. The rate of forest loss in the country has been gradually increasing in recent years. The primary forest loss in the DRC is predominantly composed of small clearings near cyclical agricultural areas. These areas are cleared and burned for short-term crop cultivation, and then left fallow for forests and soil nutrients to regenerate.

The increasing population in the DRC has resulted in a higher demand for food, leading to shorter fallow periods. As a result, agriculture is expanding into primary forest areas. This trend of agricultural expansion contributes to the loss of primary forests in the country.

FOREST LOSS IN GHANA AT A RECORD HIGH

Ghana lost 18,000 hectares of primary forest. Although the area of primary forest loss may seem small compared to other countries, Ghana has already lost a significant portion of its primary forest, and the proportion of loss in relation to the remaining forest is high. This makes it one of the countries with the highest proportion of tropical forest loss in 2022.

Most of the forest loss in Ghana occurred within protected areas, which are crucial for conserving the last remaining patches of primary forest in the country. This indicates a significant challenge in protecting these areas from illegal activities and encroachment.

The primary forest loss in Ghana shows a pattern of small-scale clearings, particularly near cocoa farms. Cocoa production is a major driver of deforestation in the country, as farmers often clear forested areas to establish new cocoa plantations. Additionally, some of the forest loss is associated with fire and gold mining activities.

FORESTS OUTSIDE OF THE TROPICS

Total global tree cover loss, which includes loss of primary, secondary and planted forests, declined by 10% in 2022. This decline was primarily driven by a decrease in fire-related losses. Non-fire losses, on the other hand, increased slightly by less than 1% in 2022.

Although the overall tree cover loss decreased in 2022, the rate of fire-related loss has generally been increasing since 2000. Climate change and human activities attributed to this.  In 2021, there was a significant increase in fire-related loss in the boreal region. However, 2022 was relatively quieter in terms of global fires, with a 28% decrease in fire-related loss compared to the previous year. Nonetheless, certain areas still experienced significant fire-related losses.

Russia was the biggest contributor to the decline in tree cover loss, with a 34% decrease between 2021 and 2022. Russia had its highest rate of tree cover loss ever in 2021 due to a record-breaking fire season while the 2022 season was below average. Forestry is the other main driver of tree cover loss in Russia, with several instances of expansion into intact forests in 2022. Boreal forests, and Russia in particular, have an outsized impact on the global statistics. Even with the decrease in tree cover loss from 2021 to 2022, Russia still contributed to almost 19% of the global total.

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