World Bank has come up with an interesting interactive map to show that Earth has lost 1.3 million sq km of forest cover — an area larger than South Africa — in the last 25 years. The average annual average loss of forests has been 50,000 sq km, an area the size of Costa Rica, as per data from World’s Bank’s 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators.
The red spots on the map signifying loss prominently overshadow the green symbolizing gains — commendable in China and good in Europe. Not surprisingly, the world’s largest countries also have the largest forest areas.
Forests, which cover a third of the world’s land, were spread about 50 million sq km in the beginning of the 20th century. This has since shrunk to less than 40 million sq km, driven by the growing demand for forest products and for agricultural land use.
During this time, Latin America lost 10% of its forest area while the loss in Sub-Saharan Africa was around 12%. Brazil alone has lost half a million sq km of forest or 531,670 sq km. This is almost the same area that China has gained (511,807 sq km). Despite the Brazilian government’s efforts at curbing deforestation rates, huge tracts of the famous Amazon rainforest are getting lost due to illegal logging and farming.
Recently, ESA compared a Landsat-5 image from 1985 with a Copernicus Sentinel-2 image from 2016 to show how vegetation has been cleared away for logging, farming and other activities. Unlike other forests, rainforests do not grow back once destroyed and the soils is not suitable for long-term agricultural use. This is of great concern since more than a third of all species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest. More than half of all plant and land animal species in the world live in tropical forests.
Latin America and the Caribbean, which have the world’s second largest share of forests (after Europe and Central Asia) — with about one quarter of the world’s total — has lost some 970,000 sq km or 10% of its forest area since 1990. Middle East and North Africa showed the largest percentage increase in forest area (16.4%).
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Interestingly, this alarming degradation in forest land came despite having more than 14% of the world’s land declared nationally protected by 2012. Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa had the largest areas of protected land.
Lax environmental laws and inefficient, and often corrupt, forest management are some of the factors that contribute to large-scale deforestation. This is not only disastrous for endangered species, but severely effects local climate, thus hindering global Climate Change efforts, desertification, and displacement of populations.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, the single biggest direct cause of deforestation is agriculture. Subsistence farming is responsible for 48% of deforestation; commercial agriculture is responsible for 32%; logging for 14%, and fuel wood removals make up 5%.
You can also click here to check out the Global Forest Watch interactive map.