The World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch report is flagging 2018 as another devastating year for most of the planet’s rainforests, with responsibility falling on usual suspects like cattle ranchers, loggers, and palm oil companies, small-scale gold miners and firewood harvesters, and sectors like cocoa that had pledged to do better.
“Although 2018 losses were lower than in 2016 and 2017, when dry conditions led to large fires, last year was the next-worst since 2002, when such records began,” reports the Guardian.
With around 12 million total hectares of rainforest destroyed in 2018, the particular concern is the 3.6-million-hectare loss of old growth forests that are critical to biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and to the Indigenous peoples who call them home.
“We are nowhere near winning this battle,” said WRI spokesperson Frances Seymour.
Using satellite data collected by the University of Maryland, WRI constructed a revealing picture of how corporate greed and human need continue to drive deforestation—and how government regulation can work to keep forests intact and thriving.
“Clearcutting of primary forest by loggers and cattle ranchers in Brazil dominated the destruction,” writes the Guardian, with a total of 1.3 million hectares of Amazon jungle lost in 2018. Some of that destruction was illegal, taking place in reserves that are also home to the country’s remaining uncontacted peoples. 2018 losses in the Ituna Itata reserve were “more than double the total loss since 2002,” and the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency is virtually guarantees that such reserves will be under ever greater threat in years to come.
Due to gold mining and cocoa farming, Ghana and Ivory Coast recorded the biggest percentage rises in rainforest destruction at 60 and 26%, respectively, with 70% of the trees taken from forest reserves. The Guardian notes that both countries, together with some of the world’s largest cocoa companies, agreed to combat deforestation by signing the Cocoa and Forests Initiative Frameworks for Action during the 2017 UN climate conference, COP 23, in Bonn.
Forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo also fared poorly, with destruction of old growth stands in 2018 coming in 38% higher than the average for 2011-2017. WRI attributes three-quarters of the loss to the expansion of small-scale forest clearing for agriculture and firewood.
The report points to Indonesia as a country where good government policy has brought the loss of old growth forest down to its lowest level since 2003. But with a dry year in the forecast, and continuing draining of forest lands, WRI warns against complacency.
Overall, “the world’s forests are now in the emergency room—it is death by a thousand cuts,” Seymour said. And “for every hectare lost, we are one step closer to the scary scenario of runaway climate change.”