Deforestation is the irreversible removal of trees in order to make way for something other than forest. It occurs when forests are destroyed to provide land for farming or cattle or when timber is used for fuel, building, or the production of goods.
Over 50% of all deforestation is the result of farming, the grazing of livestock, and mining. As for the other half – this is the result of wildfires and wood harvesting. Urbanization is responsible for only 0.6% of global deforestation.
Global deforestation statistics
- Forests currently occupy around 30% of our planet’s total area according to data provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Around 80% of all terrestrial wildlife species inhabit forested regions
- Over 13 million people work in the forest industry
- The timber industry manufactures over 5,000 different types of products
- In 2019 alone around 121,000 sq. km of tropical forest was lost
- Our planet has lost 1.3 million sq. km of forest (more than the area of South Africa) over the past three decades due to human intervention
- Every minute, 2,400 trees are cut down
- Researchers found that in the period from 2003 to 2015, a 10% annual increase in forest loss resulted in a 3% increase in the number of malaria cases
- On a daily basis, the Earth loses 137 plant, animal, and insect species due to deforestation
7 facts about deforestation
1. Annually, the Earth loses nearly 5 million hectares of forest (approximately 50,000 sq. km).
Over 70% of deforestation is the result of agricultural activity, namely:
- Beef production: 41%
- Palm oil and soybean growing: 18%
- Logging for paper and timber: 13%
2. Annually, 21 000 sq. km of forest area is lost due to meat production.
This mainly occurs when forests are cut down and the land is converted to cattle pasture. Although currently, the richer nations are the world’s largest meat consumers, developing nations are now starting to catch up. It is expected that by 2028 meat consumption in these countries will grow four times faster compared to developed countries.
3. Deforestation for palm oil
Palm oil is included in products that 60% of the food people use on a daily basis, ranging from vegetable oil to crackers and from soap to shampoo. To meet the ever-growing demand for these products, a forest area equal to 300 football fields is lost by the hour. This in turn leads to the loss of the habitats of various vulnerable species such as the Sumatran tiger.
4. Deforestation causes additional 4.8 billion tons of global CO2 emissions yearly
Cutting down forests leads to the emission of almost 5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. NASA scientists have determined that the techniques to accelerate the cutting and burning of land clearing in Borneo, the world’s third-largest island boasting the world’s oldest rainforests, contributed to the biggest single-year global increase in CO2 emissions in two millennia.
If tropical deforestation was a nation, it would hold 3rd place in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions
5. Brazil and Indonesia are responsible for nearly 50% of all tropical deforestation
These two nations have some of the world’s largest and richest biodiversity within their tropical forests. The threat to biodiversity intensifies as the farming sector continues to destroy the forests to use the land for crop and livestock farming.
6. Soy is a major cause of deforestation
Many people associate soy with soymilk and tofu but this plant is actually mostly utilized as fodder and to maintain the vast demand for meat production. Animal feed accounts for 77% of soy output. Around 12% of forest destruction occurs due to soy production. This is because soy only has one yield per life cycle which means its production necessitates much higher land use. The largest producers of soy products are the U.S. and Brazil.
7. Over 100 nations have committed to putting an end to deforestation by 2030
This commitment was made at the COP26 climate conference held in late 2021. Over 100 nations collectively encompass 85% of all forests on the planet, the largest being Brazil, the Russian Federation, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has been agreed that US$19.2 billion will be spent on tackling the issue by rehabilitating degraded land and assisting indigenous populations to prevent wildfire damage.
Top 10 countries that lost the most primary (virgin) forest in 2021
According to data provided by the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Review, in 2020 Brazil lost 1,704,000 hectares of primary forest – the largest area in the world followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bolivia, and Indonesia.
Africa deforestation statistics
Each year between 2015 and 2020, around 4.4 million hectares of forest were cut down and converted. Western and Central Africa lost approximately 1.9 million hectares of forest. Over the last three decades, Africa registered the biggest loss of forested land than any other place on the planet.
Brazil deforestation statistics
Official data suggests that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has reached its highest level in nearly two decades. Brazil’s space research organization, Inpe, showed that the annual rise in deforestation reached 22% in 2021. In 2020 around 11,000 sq. km of forest land was lost in the Brazil Legal Amazon area.
Deforestation in Europe
A study published in Nature in 2020 showed that from 2016 to 2018 the area of deforestation increased by almost 50% compared to 2011 to 2015. Research also shows that the average size of cultivated areas has risen by 34% across Europe, potentially affecting biodiversity and causing soil degradation.
Deforestation in the United States of America
The forests are being removed as metropolitan areas grow. In 2020 the U.S. lost 15,900 sq. km of forest. Every year, urban regions in the country lose over 175,000 acres (700 sq. km) of tree cover. Buildings and roads currently encompass 40% of that land.
It should be obvious that deforestation is a massive issue both in terms of maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change. However, some nations are cutting down their forests at alarming rates without any plans for future restoration.
Biodiversity is vital for our planet and trees undoubtedly play an important role in maintaining this. Nonetheless, deforestation continues, forsaking the benefits we may gain in the long run for short-term profits.