Second-highest level of tropical deforestation recorded in 2017

Last year was the second-worst on record for tropical forest cover loss, with approximately 40 football fields of trees vanishing every minute, new data reveals.


Published by Global Forest Watch, the findings show that the tropics lost approximately 39 million acres of trees in 2017 – an area approximately the size of Bangladesh.

This was slightly down on the 2016 record for tropical deforestation, with farmers continuing to clear land for agricultural use in response to the global demand for commodities.

Frances Seymour, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, said the scale of forest destruction was “catastrophe for the global climate”, making the world a hotter and direr place.

“In addition to capturing and storing carbon, forests affect wind speed, rainfall patterns and atmospheric chemistry,” she wrote in a blog. “Forests are even more important than we thought in curbing climate change.

“There’s no mystery on the main reason why tropical forests are disappearing – vast areas continue to be cleared for soy, beef, palm oil and other commodities.”

Despite concerted efforts to reduce tropical deforestation, the findings show how tree cover loss has been rising steadily in the tropics over the past 17 years.

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Colombia experienced one the largest increases in deforestation, rising by 46% from 2016, and at more than double the rate recorded between 2001 and 2015.

Brazil recorded its second-highest rate of deforestation, although Indonesia experienced a dramatic fall after more than a decade of rising tree loss.

Seymour said much of the problem is caused by illegal logging, while global demand for commodities like soy and palm oil is artificially inflated by the use of food in biofuels.

However, she also pointed to preliminary analysis that suggests a large chunk of forest loss in 2017 was due to natural disasters, which are expected to become more frequent and severe with climate change.

“While stabilising the global climate is contingent on saving the world’s forests, saving the forests is also contingent on stabilising the global climate,” she continued in her blog.

“In addition to doubling down on the proven strategies for reducing deforestation, all countries need to up their game on climate action.

“Nature is telling us this is urgent. We know what to do. Now we just have to do it.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

Graphic credit: World Resources Institute


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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