The Earth lost a record-setting 297,000 square kilometres (114,672 square miles) of forest cover in 2016, the equivalent land mass of New Zealand, partly due to rising temperatures and drought, Global Forest Watch reported this week.
The report concluded that “the combination of forest fires with land use change and climate change could speed destruction in areas like the Amazon and contribute to emissions of carbon dioxide,” Reuters reports. Forest losses in 2016 exceed the total for 2015 by 51%.
“We saw quite a dramatic spike in 2016,” said World Resources Institute Research Analyst Mikaela Weisse. “That seems to be related to forest fires in countries including Brazil, Indonesia, and Portugal.”
GFW’s calculation captures losses of tree cover but not gains due to regrowth and new planting. In a separate study using a different methodology, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that net deforestation has slowed by more than half over the last 25 years.
While GFW said deforestation of the Amazon nearly tripled to 37,000 square kilometres in 2016, Brazilian environmental agency data showed a 16% reduction for the period from August 2016 to July 2017, the first decline in three years—even as 2016 was the country’s ninth-worst forest fire year since it began keeping records in 1998.
“The dry climate and low humidity made man-made fires gain larger dimension,” the agency told Reuters in an email.
“Weisse said GFW data often detected smaller-scale losses in tree cover, including in layers beneath the forest canopy, while the Brazilian data was better at recording clearances of large blocks of forest,” the news agency notes. “GFW said Indonesia lost almost one million hectares of tree cover in 2016, probably the delayed result of a severe fire season in 2015.” (h/t to CleanTechnica for pointing us to this story)