More than 43 million hectares – an area larger than Germany – of forest have been lost in just over a decade in a handful of deforestation hotspots, conservation organization WWF said on Wednesday.
Sections of forest continue to be flattened each year – mainly due to industrial-scale agriculture – as areas rich in biodiversity are cleared to create space for livestock and crops.
WWF analysis found that just 29 sites in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia were responsible for more than half of global forest loss.
The Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, the Bolivian Amazon, Paraguay, Argentina, Madagascar, as well as Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia were among the most affected, he said.
In the Brazilian region of Cerrado, home to 5% of the world’s animals and plants, land was rapidly cleared for soybean and livestock production, resulting in a loss of 32.8% of forest area between 2004 and 2017.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a groundbreaking land use report in 2019, in which it describes a series of looming tradeoffs in land use.
That same year, the UN’s biodiversity panel declared that 75 percent of all land on the planet had been “severely degraded” by human activity.
Forests are a huge carbon sink, with other plants and soils absorbing about a third of all the carbon pollution humans produce each year.
Yet they continue to disappear rapidly, threatening irreparable loss to Earth’s crucial biodiversity.
– “The best interest of humanity” –
And, as wild species see their living space shrink each year, the risk of recurrence of zoonotic diseases – such as the Covid-19 pandemic – is jumping to humans is increasing.
“We need to tackle overconsumption and place a higher value on health and nature rather than the current overwhelming focus on economic growth and financial profits at all costs,” said Fran Raymond Price, manager forestry practices at WWF International.
“It is in the interest of humanity: the risk of new diseases appearing is higher in tropical forest regions experiencing land use change.”
Price warned that if deforestation was not halted quickly, “we could miss our chance to help prevent the next pandemic.”
There is also a huge threat to indigenous communities who have lived off what forests have provided for centuries or more.
Ana Mota da Silva, a member of the Mumbuca community in Cerrado – where deforestation increased by 13% in 2020 – said she feared for the future.
“Knowing that our rivers are drying up, that so many trees are dying… the certainty that my sons, my cousins, my descendants will not see what I have seen,” she said.
“We now face the devastation of Cerrado and us with it.
Recent research has shown that beyond a certain threshold, deforestation in the Amazon basin could shift the region into a new climate regime, turning tropical forests into savannah.
The WWF report urged citizens to do their part by avoiding products linked to deforestation such as some meat, soy and palm oil products.
He also urged governments to work to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and conserve areas rich in biodiversity.
© 2021 AFP