Global rainforest continues to suffer loss

The relentless destruction of the world’s most pristine rainforest persisted unabated in 2023, despite notable declines in forest loss observed in the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon regions, according to newly released data.

A staggering expanse nearly equivalent to the size of Switzerland was cleared from previously untouched rainforests last year, amounting to a total of 37,000 square kilometers (14,200 square miles). This alarming rate, equivalent to the clearance of 10 football pitches every minute, is often driven by the expansion of agricultural activities globally.

While Brazil and Colombia reported significant reductions in forest loss, attributed to environmental policies under Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Gustavo Petro, respectively, these gains were overshadowed by substantial increases in deforestation seen in Bolivia, Laos, Nicaragua, and other nations.

Additionally, Canada experienced unprecedented forest loss due to wildfires, with more than 8 million hectares (20 million acres) scorched.

Mikaela Weisse, Director of Global Forest Watch at the WRI, emphasized the mixed progress, stating that while declines in forest loss were evident in some regions, increasing deforestation elsewhere negated these advancements. She stressed the importance of learning from countries successfully curbing deforestation.

Changes in land use, including deforestation, rank as the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and a primary driver of biodiversity loss. Preserving rainforests is imperative to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to experts.

Despite global commitments to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, as reiterated at the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai following the landmark Cop26 summit in Glasgow, the latest figures underscore a significant gap in meeting this target, with little progress in global forest conservation observed in recent years.

While Brazil demonstrated a notable reduction in its deforestation rate, it remained among the top three countries in terms of primary rainforest loss, alongside the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bolivia. These three nations accounted for over half of the total global deforestation.

Bolivia experienced a troubling surge in forest loss for the third consecutive year, primarily driven by the expansion of soybean cultivation. Laos and Nicaragua also witnessed substantial losses of their remaining pristine rainforest, attributed to factors such as agricultural expansion fueled by external demands.

Despite the grim outlook, researchers highlighted the potential for learning from success stories like Brazil and Colombia to achieve deforestation targets. Professor Matthew Hansen proposed a compensation-based approach coupled with robust governance and civil society engagement as viable strategies to preserve standing rainforests, citing initiatives like Germany’s “Fair Deal” and Norway’s collaboration with Gabon as potential models for conservation efforts.

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