Where in the world did all the trees go?

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As a climate change charity with a focus on protecting and conserving tropical forests, we are continually sourcing the latest data and information on ways to reduce the causes of deforestation and the degradation of forest land – the second biggest cause of carbon emissions after fossil fuel burning.

The latest data presented by the incredible team behind Global Forest Watch (GFW) brings much-needed and timely analyses into the reasons for deforestation along with a better understanding of whether these are likely to lead to permanent loss.

Their latest data reveals some startling information:

  • Since 2000 over a quarter (27%) of permanent global tree cover loss is due by commodity-driven deforestation, i.e. predominantly for palm oil, soy, beef and timber products, and are primarily concentrated in Latin America and Southeast Asia
  • Managed forests and tree plantations accounts for another quarter (26%) of global tree loss. Much of this will be expected to regrow after harvest, and therefore isn’t as harmful environmentally, however can be harmful to species biodiversity.
  • Shifting agriculture accounts for just under a quarter (24%), i.e. the practice of clearing and cultivating land for a short period of time. These forests may or may not grow back, depending on the cultivation process. For example, shifting agriculture in Peru is typically well managed compared to sub-Saharan Africa where it is more likely to lead to long term damage.
  • Wildfire made up 23% of forest loss – these forests are likely to regenerate gradually over time although carries with it many other threats.
  • Urbanisation, surprisingly, is responsible for less than 1% of global forest loss.

Forests are critical storehouses of carbon and feature prominently in major multinational efforts to combat global warming. In fact, effective conservation, restoration and management of tropical forests, mangroves and peatlands could provide a quarter of the climate action needed by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to two degrees. A recent campaign at the Global Climate Action Summit The 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge highlighted that “better forest and habitat conservation, food production and consumption, and land use, can deliver up to 30% of the climate solutions needed by 2030.”

The GFW study provides important information for companies that have committed to zero deforestation within their supply chains and to those, like us, lobbying for the protection and conservation of forests. With commodity driven deforestation remaining constant throughout their 15-year study period, this study gives those companies a clear map of priority areas to target for certification and traceability.

Understanding where and why tree loss is occurring will enable the right kind action to be taken on a local level, while creating positive change on a global level. Interventions need to have the greatest possible impact and should target the most damaging practices, i.e. those which result in permanent deforestation in tropical forest areas.

Looking more deeply into a problem to better understand the issues is essential and while these may not make the easiest of headlines, it does show the importance of getting our messages right. This was similarly addressed by Nature which highlighted that while global tree cover has actually increased over the last 35 years (mainly in temperate forests) there have been large-scale loss of some of the planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems which are found mainly in tropical forests, which has seen a huge loss in tree cover. If it’s simply a numbers game then the news is pleasing, alas.

With Size of Wales’ projects focused predominantly where the study finds permanent deforestation is likely, our efforts therefore to support NGOs working in tropical forest areas forms part of the solution to this immense challenge. We are currently working with 6 forest partners to protect more than 4 million hectares (twice the size of Wales!) of tropical forest in Africa and South America.

Each of our forest partners is working closely with the local and indigenous communities, where they are delivering more sustainable livelihoods through helping them manage and protect forests, and not see them as commodities to be logged or burned.

If you would like to support our work then please consider donating to us at sizeofwales.org.uk/donate or contact us to discuss how we can help you develop a ‘zero deforestation’ policy for your organisation.

Sources

https://www.wri.org/news/2018/09/release-new-study-finds-more-quarter-global-tree-cover-loss-commodity-driven

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6407/1108

https://www.globalforestwatch.org/map/3/16.52/0.98/ALL/grayscale/loss/607,556,580,592?tab=analysis-tab&begin=2001-01-01&end=2016-01-01&threshold=30&dont_analyze=true

https://news.mongabay.com/2018/08/earth-has-more-trees-now-than-35-years-ago/


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