A new analysis from a nongovernmental organization says humans have destroyed or degraded two-thirds of the world’s rainforests, Reuters reported.
The study, conducted by Rainforest Foundation Norway, posits that 34% of old-growth tropical rainforests have been destroyed by logging and land conversion, predominantly for agriculture. Another 30% has been degraded, which makes them more vulnerable to fire or future destruction, according to Reuters.
A look at tropical rainforest deforestation globally in 2019. Brazil/Americas far and away the leader. The drivers of destruction are similar everywhere though, logging or agriculture, whether for beef cattle in Brazil or palm oil in SE Asia. https://t.co/1ISxV6BL1A pic.twitter.com/I1zm1RZ9Mr
— Jake Spring (@jakespring) March 8, 2021
The study’s results have sparked concern among experts because of the mitigating effect rainforests have on climate change, Reuters reported. Forests act as a natural buffer against climate change because plants absorb carbon dioxide. Rainforests like the Amazon make up the largest living reservoirs of carbon on the planet, but their destruction takes away this buffer. As a result, the planet could become hotter while rainforests struggle to survive, argued Anders Krogh, the report’s author.
From 2002 to 2019, rainforests around the world lost land areas larger than the size of France. In a separate report, the World Resources Institute found that a soccer field’s worth of forest vanished every six seconds in 2019. “It’s a terrifying cycle,” Krogh told Reuters.
The Amazon and surrounding rainforests have experienced more than half of all rainforest destruction over that time period, but still make up 73.5% of the world’s intact tropical forests. After the Amazon and its neighboring forests, rainforests on islands in Southeast Asia saw the second most forest destruction since 2002, according to Reuters. Central Africa took third because of commercial agriculture and logging in the Congo River basin, Reuters reported. (RELATED: The Coming Global Forest Regrowth)
Experts have argued whether the study has made proper assumptions, Reuters reported. Rainforest Foundation Norway’s analysis only counted forests of at least 500 square km as intact, Tasso Azevedo of MapBiomas told Reuters. This means Rainforest Foundation Norway could be understating the amount of healthy, unspoiled forest cover.
But Krogh said this size was chosen because trees die faster and biodiversity is more difficult to maintain at a forest’s edge — also known as the “edge effect” — Reuters reported.