Since 1990, 420 million hectares of forest have been lost as a result of human activity including land clearing for agricultural farming and logging. As of 2020, forest cover accounts for about 31% of the world’s total land area. Though the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades, we’re losing thousands of hectares more with every passing day. September 2022 went down in history as a record-breaking month for deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest and most important rainforest. Here are 10 stunning deforestation facts you need to know and why we need to protect our forests more than ever.
10 Deforestation Facts
1. We Lose Around 10 Million Hectares of Forest Every Single Year
The world has been chopping down 10 million hectares of trees every year to make space to grow crops and livestock, and to produce materials such as paper. This accounts for about 16% of total tree loss cover. 96% of deforestation takes place in tropical forests.
2. Deforestation Contributes about 4.8 Billion Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide A Year
One of the most stunning deforestation facts is that forest loss contributes nearly 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, which is equivalent to nearly 10% of annual human emissions. NASA researchers found that accelerated slashing and burning methods of land clearing in Borneo, the third-largest island in the world and home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, driving Indonesia up towards a leading source of carbon emissions.
3.75 million hectares of tropical primary rainforests were lost in 2021 alone. This resulted in 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India and nearly 10 soccer pitches a minute.
3. Beef is Responsible for 41% of Global Deforestation
The farming industry needs to clear substantial pasture lands for cattle (and livestock) in order to keep up with global demand for beef. An estimated 81,081 square miles of forest land is lost every year for meat production, 80% of which occurs in the Amazon. Developed countries such as the US and China, the latter happens to be the world’s biggest beef consumer, devouring almost one-third of the world’s meat, are some of the biggest culprits of deforestation. But developing countries are catching up and are on track to rise by four times as much as in the developed world by 2028. Many are calling for people to adopt a plant-based diet as a method of combat deforestation, which will also help slash greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural industry and slow down global warming.
4. Chocolate and Biscuits are Major Contributors to Deforestation
Aside from beef production, the palm oil industry is also responsible for a significant amount of deforestation around the world. Palm oil is used in over two thirds of the food products that we consume everyday, from vegetable oil to chocolate to biscuits, as well as in other household products like soap and shampoo. To keep up with the demand, forest land equivalent to 300 football fields is being cleared every hour to make room for palm plantations, destroying important habitats of critically endangered species such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger.
Many forests have also been converted into monoculture plantations, meaning planting the same single plant species across the land, which not only threatens biodiversity of the ecosystem, but increases the risks of soil erosion while reducing nutrient content.
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5. Brazil and Indonesia Account for Almost Half of Tropical Deforestation
And one-third of tropical deforestation happens in Brazil alone. That amounts to approximately 1.7 million hectares each year. Both Brazil and Indonesia are home to some of the world’s largest and biodiverse tropical forests in the world. As the agricultural industry continues to practice land clearing for crop and livestock farming, the threat to biodiversity only worsens. Studies say observed animal populations have experienced an average 68% decline in population numbers. In Borneo, Indonesia, the critically endangered orangutan lost nearly 80% of its population within the last 50 years.
6. Soy Plays a Big Role in Deforestation
While most think of soy in the form of soy milk, tofu and other soybean products that make up a plant-based diet, soy in fact has been mostly used as animal feed and to support the massive demand of meat production. Animal feed makes up 77% of soy production, while only 19.2% goes directly into human food products. Globally, soy is responsible for about 12% of deforestation. Due to the fact that soy only offers one yield per life cycle, soy cultivation requires a lot more land use, where the total area of land used to cultivate soy takes up the combined area of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. Seeking an alternative source of animal feed and reducing global meat consumption could both significantly drive down the rate of deforestation.
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7. Deforestation Has Turned the Amazon Rainforest into a Carbon Source
One of the most shocking deforestation facts in recent years is that the Amazon, the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems and important carbon sinks, is found to emit a greater amount of carbon dioxide than it is absorbing as a result of deforestation, wildfires and climate change. According to a study between 2010 and 2018, deforestation in eastern Amazonia has led to greater warming and moisture stress to the forest especially during dry seasons, making it more susceptible to wildfires. Forest fires, in turn, produce three times more carbon than the forests can absorb, creating a negative loop. The study also revealed that the forest emitted about a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equal to the annual emissions released in Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest polluter.
A recent report similarly found 10 UNESCO world heritage forests have become sources of carbon over the past 20 years due to the same factors, naming the Yosemite national park in the US and the Greater Blue Mountains area in Australia among the affected sites.
8. No Company in the World Achieved Its Net Zero Deforestation Commitment
A 2020 analysis found that more than half of the 100 most significant tropical timber and pulp companies have failed to commit to protecting biodiversity and 44% have yet to publicly commit to net zero deforestation (meaning the rate of land clearing is equal to the rate of reforestation or replanting). Out of the companies that have pledged to reach net zero deforestation by 2020, only eight companies were found to have deployed comprehensive forest and land-use management practices but none were able to successfully achieve net zero.
9. Leading Banks Financed $119 Billion to Companies Linked to Deforestation
One of the most shocking facts about deforestation is that the world’s top global banks and lenders have extended a total of USD$119 billion of financing to 20 major agricultural companies linked to deforestation in just the span of five years. Banks such as JPMorgan, HSBC, and Bank of America were among the biggest investors, backing projects and businesses including Brazilian meat producer JBS to support its cattle and poultry farms. Each of the banks have reportedly struck dozens of funding deals between 2016 and 2020 despite a number of firms having adopted ‘no-deforestation’ policies. There is a glaring lack of monitoring and enforcing mechanisms in the financial sector, allowing widespread land degradation to persist.
10. More Than 100 Countries Have Pledged to End Deforestation by 2030
Despite the current state of deforestation, there is good news. At last year’s COP26 climate conference, a UN summit for world leaders to conduct and negotiate policy agreements on emissions reduction and climate change mitigation, more than 100 countries have joined a pledge to stop and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade. Combined, these 100+ countries make up 85% of the world’s forests. Some of the most notable signatories include Brazil, Russia, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The pact will see US$19.2 billion of private and public funds to help combat this global environmental problem, from restoring degraded land and supporting indigenous communities to mitigating wildfire damage.
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What Can I Do?
1. On A Personal Level
Ways to approach climate action within our personal lives (hint – it evolves personal action but is not focused on small behavioural changes, which whilst worthwhile will not get us there):
- Joining a community can be one of the best ways to increase your impact.
- First, it can enable you to make hundreds of connections in one go.
- Second, a group of people working together can have more impact than individuals. If you are not already, take action by becoming an EO Member to support our mission to encourage a billion climate activists.
- If you’re a younger read ask your parents to take action by bringing your whole family on board as a Family Member.
- Reflect on the concept of Effective Altruism, a project that aims to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice.
2. On A Professional Level
Ways to approach climate action within the workplace:
- Maintain your career path but consider donating a portion of your income to organisations that are focused on achieving meaningful & impactful goals and call out your boss if the company or organisation you work for does not have clear policies that will result in reduced harm to the environment and a pathway to Net Zero.
- Ask your boss to support EO by bringing the whole team onboard with EO company membership – and take action together.
- Reconsider your career path, with excellent advice here.
3. On A Political Level
Ways to approach climate action as a voter or political actor (even if you can’t vote):
- Protest – make your feelings known – become a vocal and passionate advocate with friends and family (without being over pushy) of the need for climate action. We need a billion activists to turn this ship around.
- Join organisations that are organising climate actions and protests locally, whether in your city, district, or even at school.
- Vote (if you can) for politicians who will champion effective climate action by governments.
- Vote for parties or organisations that espouse self-reform and the adoption of ‘Ministers of the Future’ into government.