As agriculture and urbanisation grew, deforestation became one of the biggest environmental issues since the 1960s. Deforestation leads to biodiversity loss, increased carbon emissions, and significant social and economic impacts on communities and countries relying on forests for their livelihoods.
Approximately 10 million hectares of forests are cut down each year. This is roughly the same size as Portugal. To balance this alarming rate, many individuals, organisations, and governments are supporting reforestation and afforestation projects. This article will discuss deforestation and its solutions in further detail.
Owl sitting on a tree, Europe.
Deforestation is the removal of trees and other vegetation from an area of land, resulting in the conversion of forested land into non-forested land. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, deforestation is the conversion of forest for another land use or the long-term (over 10 years) reduction of tree-canopy cover below a 10% threshold.
The primary causes of deforestation are human activities such as agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and urbanisation. These activities often lead to the degradation and loss of forested ecosystems, resulting in various environmental impacts.
Read more: Top 10 causes of deforestation
According to recent statistics, the global rate of deforestation has slowed down in the last decade, but it is still a significant environmental problem.
The FAO of the United Nations estimates that global forest area decreased from 4.06 billion hectares in 2000 to 3.99 billion hectares in 2020, representing a net loss of 0.12% of the world's forests annually.
Some regions, such as the Amazon rainforest, have experienced higher deforestation rates than others. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), around 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years.
Between 2000 and 2020, the Amazon lost an estimated 8.4% of its forest cover, primarily due to clearing for cattle ranching and soybean cultivation.
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Historically, deforestation has occurred for thousands of years as humans cleared forests for agriculture and settlement. However, the pace and scale of deforestation increased dramatically in recent decades. According to the FAO, the world lost around 178 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2015, an area roughly the size of Libya.
The regions most affected by deforestation are the tropical regions of South America, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, these regions contain some of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems and thousands of unique species that are negatively affected by deforestation.
Brazil, for example, has experienced significant deforestation in the Amazon rainforest due to agricultural expansion, logging, and other activities.
In Indonesia, deforestation is driven largely by the expansion of oil palm plantations, which produce various consumer products such as palm oil.
In recent years, efforts to address deforestation have been made through international agreements such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2015 Paris Agreement. Additionally, there is a growing movement towards sustainable land-use practices, such as agroforestry and conservation agriculture, which aim to balance economic development with environmental conservation. However, deforestation remains a significant threat to global biodiversity and ecosystem health, and further action is needed to address this important issue.
Oil palm tree plantation next to a tropical rainforest.
Deforestation significantly impacts the environment and local communities, highlighting the need for sustainable land-use practices that balance economic development with environmental and social conservation. In addition to impacting local communities that live in the immediate surroundings of the forests, deforestation impacts different supply-chain activities, food security, and agriculture on a global level.
Armadillo, Pantanal, Brazil.
Read more: Why we need to plant more trees
Many factors contribute to the growth of deforestation rates in different locations. While these factors can be divided into different types, they are deeply interconnected. Driving forces of deforestation include:
Herd of Nelore cattle grazing in a pasture on a Brazilian ranch.
Overall, addressing the drivers of deforestation will require attention to certain underlying economic, political, and social factors; promoting sustainable land-use practices; and improving governance and land tenure systems. The underlying factors that affect global deforestation are complex and can include a range of different industries and sociopolitical dynamics, including:
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Deforestation is a significant environmental issue that threatens ecosystems' biodiversity and affects the quality of soil, air, and water. There are various solutions and initiatives to reduce deforestation, such as forest conservation, reforestation, and sustainable land-use practices. Let’s discuss some of them:
Tree nursery - Sawa Afforestation Project, Cameroon, DGB.
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Deforestation might seem like an issue that affects only those who live near forests and not the urban population. However, environmental and economic ecosystems are deeply interconnected. The destruction of forests thousands of miles away affects the type and price of medicine, food, and materials, as well as the quality of air.
Therefore, it is essential to proactively restore and conserve forests and counteract deforestation. Our livelihoods are not just isolated experiences; they depend on the vital global processes involving air, soil, and water quality.
We help governments, large organisations, small businesses, or individuals take steps towards a greener and more abundant future. If you or your organisation plan to be proactive and plant more trees for future generations—we are here to help. You can plant a couple of trees per month or a few thousand as part of our large-scale reforestation and afforestation projects. Both are meaningful in their own way and accessible to you at any time. You can plant your first tree today or speak with our project team about nature-restoration projects we are currently developing.
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