A new study published Wednesday found that the destruction of primary forest increased by 12% in 2020, impacting ecosystems that store vast amounts of carbon and shelter abundant biodiversity.
“We now know how much tropical rainforest that is left in the world and the state it is in, and we have compared this to estimates of how much tropical rainforest that existed before modern human interference. This knowledge is essential for the upscaling of the global fight to save what is left. It is alarming that nearly half of the world’s rainforests are degraded, ” says Anders Krogh, a tropical forest researcher.
According to the RFN report, of the approximately 14.5 million square kilometers of tropical rainforest that once covered Earth’s surface, only 36 percent remains intact. Just over a third, 34 percent, is completely gone, and the last 30 percent is in various forms of degradation.
Brazil saw the worst losses, three times higher than the next highest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the report from Global Forest Watch (GFW) citing satellite data.
The driving factor of deforestation has been a combination of a demand for commodities, increased agriculture, and climate change.
2020 was meant to be a “landmark year” in the fight against deforestation in which companies, countries, and international organizations had pledged to halve or completely stop forest loss, said the report.
Although seemingly out of reach from urban society, rainforests play a critical role in maintaining our Earth’s ecosystems; afterall, they are known as the lungs of the planet. Rainforests provide a home to over 30 million species of plants and animals, protect against naturals disasters such as flood, drought, and soil erosion, and are a source for medicines, foods, and ancestral territory for indigenous people; but more importantly, rainforests are the number one mechanism that helps stabilize the world’s climate and combat against global warming. By absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, as well as maintaining the world’s water cycle, rainforests regulate Earth’s climate and provide an integral source for human breathing.
“These highly specialised ecosystems are suffering from constant and persistent abuse [by humans], through our bottomless appetite for land and resources,” Krogh continues. “We expect that upcoming UN climate and biodiversity summits provide specific targets and measures to protect intact tropical rainforests.”
The next UN climate summit Krogh refers to is the 2021 UN Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 climate change summit hosted by the UK. UN officials expect nations to continue to work to deliver their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in accordance with the Paris Agreement of 2015.