For tropical trees around the globe, last year was the second worst year in recorded history.
According to new satellite data from the University of Maryland, 39 million acres of tropical forests–an area roughly the size of Florida–disappeared in 2017. The loss, which follows a record-high 41.7 million acres in 2016, adds additional strain on climate change mitigation efforts and undermines recent attempts in rainforest conservation.
The report showed that Brazil, which accounted for nearly 30% of the overall tropical forest loss, is still the leader in deforestation despite the government’s decade-long battle to reduce illegal logging.
Other areas of alarm include the Democratic Republic of Congo, trailing only Brazil with 3.7 million acres of forest loss; Colombia, where mining, logging, and farming caused a three-fold spike in deforestation from 2015; and the Caribbean, where islands like Dominica lost a third of its forests after a year inundated with hurricanes and tropical storms.
The effects of the decline in tropical forests are far reaching, many experts argue. These lush tropical forests are responsible for pulling tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year–nearly 100 tons of carbon dioxide per acre, by some estimates. Deforestation itself is estimated to account for more than 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year, according to a 2018 study in Earth System Science Data.
There was a small glimmer of good news in the report. After governmental intervention and international support, Indonesia successfully reduced its forest loss by 60% in 2017. But the success is just one part of the bigger, grimmer, picture. Here’s Brad Plumer reporting for the New York Times on the “tentative bright spot” in the report:
In 2016, Indonesia’s government imposed a new moratorium on the conversion of peatland, while Norway pledged $50 million for enforcement. Early signs are encouraging: primary forest loss on Indonesia’s protected peatland dropped 88 percent in 2017, to the lowest level in years. Still, experts said, the real test of success may come when the next El Niño hits.
But such positive stories tend to be a relative rarity and experts say much more is needed to slow the pace of deforestation. To date, just 2 percent of international financing for activities to fight climate change goes toward forest conservation, said Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute.
“We’re trying to put out a house fire with a teaspoon,” she said.
The report comes as Norway hosts the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum this week, where 500 forest experts and policymakers are meeting to address how protecting forests can contribute to meeting the Paris Agreement climate goals. On the agenda is combating illegal logging, mining global financial data to reduce drivers of deforestation, and exploring jurisdictional approaches to forest preservation.
Photo credit: pbkwee / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)