The world continues to lose many millions of hectares of forest — including tropical forests — each year. In fact, an area of forest the size of a football pitch (about 2 acres) is lost every 2 seconds.
According to conservative estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), nearly 130 million hectares of forest was lost between 1990 and 2015. While the annual rate of global deforestation has slowed somewhat since the 1990s, we are still witnessing alarming rates of deforestation in regions like Africa, South America and Indonesia. For instance, in the Brazilian Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, deforestation started to rise in 2015 for the first time in nearly a decade.
So what is driving rainforest loss and degradation? The answer depends a lot on the region in question.
In South-East Asia, expansion of palm oil production has been a major factor. In the Peruvian Amazon, on the other hand, gold mining is a leading cause of deforestation. Meanwhile, in the Congo Basin, home to the world’s second largest rainforest, there are a number of threats, including industrial-scale logging, mining and (increasingly) palm oil production.
So the short answer is yes, rainforests are in trouble.
One of the biggest problems leading to deforestation is that the people who are best placed to protect and nurture the rainforest – the indigenous people and forest dwellers who have lived there for generations – often have no rights to their own land. Particularly in the Congo Basin, governments maintain ownership of the land, allowing them to allocate vast expanses of rainforest to logging, mining and agro-industrial expansion. In addition, government agencies in these regions often struggle to monitor the activities of extractive industries and to ensure that companies fulfil their social and environmental obligations and respect human rights. This leaves both rainforests and their inhabitants extremely vulnerable.
So the short answer is yes, rainforests are in trouble. And that fact becomes all the more alarming when you consider just how important rainforests are — to the climate, to biodiversity and especially to the millions of people who depend on rainforests for their lives and livelihoods.
About 10% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the destruction of forests. In fact, deforestation is the second biggest driver of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the world.
• Animals and biodiversity
Rainforests are home to about 80% of the world’s land species. They are home to many animals on the ‘Red List’ of threatened species. In the Congo Basin, for example, these include the lowland gorilla, the forest elephant and the okapi, to name just a few.
• Conflict and criminal activity
Four out of every five conflicts over the last 50 years occurred in biodiversity hotspots like rainforests. The pillaging of rainforest resources such as timber, ivory and minerals (like diamonds) has often fuelled conflict in poorer countries. In fact, illegal logging alone amounts to £23billion each year.
Hundreds of millions of people live in the world’s rainforests, and nearly a billion people worldwide depend on the rainforests for food, shelter, medicine and income.
See more information on www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/