With the multilateral commitments agreed so far, the world aims to halve deforestation by 2020 and erase it altogether by 2030. It is a magnificent idea as, once felled, trees send back into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide they had captured: the loss of green cover is responsible for 11 per cent of global emissions. Brazil, which once had the highest felling rate in the world, has already reduced its annual logging from a record 11,000 square miles in 2004, to 2,300 in 2015.
Don’t feel too relieved, however. According to a recent study in Science Advances, our world is not really putting the action where its mouth is. Taking into account intact forest landscape (IFL), or spotless and remote green areas of a minimum 200 square miles, researchers found that from 2000 to 2013, the global IFL area decreased by 354,000 square miles, a reduction of 7.2 per cent.
With Brazil tapering off, Russia is now the top offender, and Canada in third place. Since the beginning of this century, Romania lost all of its IFLs, while Paraguay nearly did the same.
‘Laos, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and Nicaragua each lost more than 35 per cent of their IFL area,’ the study reports. You can blame energy, such as Canada’s tar sands operations that raze forests in order to dig for bituminous soil. You can blame multinational agribusiness; according to Greenpeace, 420 square miles of green cover were lost in Argentina last year alone. But what happens when climate change itself is to be blamed?
The 233,000 (and counting) square miles of forests incinerated in Chile by the end of January were probably devastated by arsonists. Still, global warming has already contributed to wildfires. The blaze that last year devoured Fort McMurray in Canada was attributed to a warmer and drier climate, clearly affecting all of the huge expanse we call boreal forest, from Alaska (7,800 square miles reduced to ashes in 2015) to Russia (109,000 in 2012). Add the armies of alien bugs ravaging trees across the northern hemisphere, assisted by global trade and drought-weakened conifers, and a dangerous climatic feedback on our planet’s green cover seems all but assured. We need to save our forests in order to save our forests!
Were nations blessed with foresight, they would call for an unconditional truce to deforestation. For now, a halt to indiscriminate forest logging is the best we can aim for.
This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.