New research concludes that roughly 64% of the world’s original tropical rainforest has been either degraded or destroyed by the hunger for commodities like palm oil, soy, and beef. Such devastation bodes ill for the climate, which desperately needs the carbon storage capacity these rich ecosystems provide.
A recent study by Rainforest Foundation Norway found that “logging and land conversion, mainly for agriculture, have wiped out 34% of the world’s original old-growth tropical rainforests, and degraded another 30%,” reports Reuters. The forests that remain are weakened, making them “more vulnerable to fire and future destruction.”
While more than 50% of the impact on tropical rainforests since 2002 has occurred in the Amazon, Indonesian forests have also been ravaged, with palm oil plantations the chief culprit. Ranking third for rainforest destruction is Central Africa, with the Congo River Basin suffering particularly from the incursions of farming (both traditional and industrial), as well as logging.
As dense tropical forest vegetation constitutes the planet’s “largest living reservoir of carbon,” all of this activity could increase the potential for climate change, Reuters notes.
“It’s a terrifying cycle,” said report author and tropical forest researcher Anders Krogh. He explained that more rainforest destruction means less carbon stored, which in turn means rising global temperatures that further weaken the forests that remain—all coming together to create an accelerating feedback loop.
Citing another recent report by the World Resources Institute, Reuters notes that the past 20 years have seen a consistently harrowing rate of loss, “with a football field’s worth of forest vanishing every six seconds,” day in, day out.
Rainforest Foundation Norway’s report should be required reading for Brazil, said Ane Alencar, director of science at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, who was not involved in the research. “Brazil has the biggest chunk of tropical forest in the world and is also losing the most,” she said.
The region has been under particular threat since 2019, when Brazil’s extreme right president, Jair Bolsonaro (aka “Capitão Motoserra”, or Captain Chainsaw), took office and took the axe to environmental protections.
Confirming just how much difference protecting Brazil’s rainforest would make, Krogh pointed out that the Amazon, together with the neighbouring Andean rainforest and the Orinoco region of Venezuela and Colombia, “account for 73.5% of tropical forests still intact.”