Destruction of world’s pristine rainforests soared in 2022 despite COP26 pledge

An area the size of Switzerland was cleared of Earth’s most pristine rainforests in 2022, despite pledges by world leaders to halt their destruction, new data shows.

From the Bolivian Amazon to Ghana, the equivalent of 11 football fields of primary rainforest were destroyed every minute last year as the planet’s most carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems were cleared for cattle ranching, l agriculture and mining, with indigenous forest communities forced off their land by extractive industries in some countries.

The tropics lost 4.1 million hectares of primary rainforest in 2022, an increase of about 10 percent from 2021, according to data compiled by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the University of Maryland. The report’s authors warn that humans are destroying one of the most effective tools for mitigating global warming and halting biodiversity loss.

Land use change is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the burning of fossil fuels and is a major driver of biodiversity loss. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is unlikely without halting the destruction of rainforests, according to scientists.

Graph showing tree cover loss in South America, from 2002 to 2022

At COP26 2021, more than 100 world leaders, including Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Jair Bolsonaro, joined forces to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 in a pledge that covered more than 90% of the world’s forests. New data suggests leaders are failing to deliver on their promises.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Bolivia lead the league table for tropical primary forest loss in 2022. Indonesia and Malaysia have managed to keep loss rates near record highs after significant corporate and government actions in recent years. years. Bolivia was one of the few large forested countries that did not sign the COP26 pledge to stop the leak.

Ghana, a major producer of cocoa for chocolate, has experienced the largest relative increase in forest loss of any country in recent years, although the absolute figures are small.

Away from the tropics, the loss of Russia’s boreal forests slowed after a record year for destruction in 2021, but the researchers said that wasn’t an indication of a positive trend.

Graph showing that the world has lost more than 72 million hectares of primary forest in the last 21 years

In response to the new figures, Inger Andersen, the UN environment chief, has called for a higher price for forest carbon to eliminate the short-term economic incentive to cut down rainforests. Through carbon markets, countries with climate-critical forests such as Gabon, Brazil and Peru could receive payments to keep them standing, although there are questions about their conservation success and ability to scale back to the required size. In April, a report calculated that at least $130 billion ($100 billion) a year was needed to protect areas most at risk.

Forests are essential for our well-being and for the well-being of planet Earth. Ending deforestation and halting forest cover loss are essential ingredients to accelerate climate action, build resilience and reduce losses and damages. We need to set a higher price for forest carbon that reflects the true value of forests, that reflects the true cost of emissions, and that is sufficient to incentivize sellers to protect permanent forests, Andersen said.

Deforestation for agriculture, particularly cocoa cultivation, near the Ghana-Togo border.
Deforestation for agriculture, particularly cocoa cultivation, near the Ghana-Togo border. Photography: Muntaka Chasant/Shutterstock

Forest protection and restoration is much more than a carbon price. It is about protecting biodiversity; protect the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities and support the hydrological cycle to stabilize weather patterns and protect us from landslides, soil erosion and flooding. We simply can’t afford to lose any more forest cover, he added.

The 2022 figures cover the last year of Jair Bolsonaros’ presidency in Brazil, during which large swathes of the Amazon were reclaimed. Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, his successor, has promised to end deforestation and will hold a Pan-Amazon summit later this year to discuss the issue.

Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are home to about half of the world’s remaining rainforests, are increasingly collaborating in UN environmental talks to ask for funds for forest protection in a coalition called the Opec Forests rainwater.

The figures describe the loss of tree cover, which is not necessarily deforestation. Deforestation is always done by humans while tree cover can be lost due to fires and other events. Figures do not include regrowth or regeneration of a forest.

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