Football Pitch-Sized Forest Lost Every Six Seconds
Jul 05 2020
Planet Earth lost a football pitch-sized patch of forest every six seconds last year, according to a distressing new study conducted by the University of Maryland in the USA. In total, 11.9 million hectares of forested area were lost in 2019, which is the third highest on record since the turn of the century. Only unprecedented fire incidents in 2016 and 2017 outstrip last year’s losses, despite governments around the world pledging to address the issue.
The revelations come as a huge disappointment to environmentalists everywhere – but probably not too much of a shock. With Brazil under the presidency of a man seemingly determined to undo all gains made in recent years, and with Australia ravaged by devastating forest fires over the last six months, 2019 was never likely to be a stellar year for deforestation efforts. Nonetheless, the news is a damaging blow in the fight against climate change (given that forests act as effective carbon sinks) and in the struggle to preserve endangered species.
The main culprits
Brazil was responsible for a third of the lost forests, with huge swathes of the Amazon decimated by wildfires and deforestation policies. It’s hardly surprising, given that incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro won his election on a platform which promised to exploit the country’s resources. Bolsonaro has since indicated that he believes the pillaging of the Amazon Rainforest will never end due to it being “cultural”.
Elsewhere in South America, Bolivia recorded losses 80% higher than any other year on record, after fires set to clear land for agricultural purposes spiralled out of control. Around an eighth of the Chiquitano dry forest, which covers an area of 230,600 square kilometres and is home to a wide array of human and animal life including indigenous tribes, giant armadillos and jaguars, was burned to the ground.
Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad news. Indonesia continued its journey on the road to a greener future by implementing a raft of policies aimed at safeguarding the country’s forested areas. As well as placing a permanent moratorium on clearing land for palm oil plantations and logging facilities, the country also stepped up enforcement of laws designed to prevent forest fires. The rewards were clear for all to see, with Indonesia enjoying historically low levels of deforestation for the third year in a row. Colombia also continued to make progress with over a third less tree cover loss than that experienced in 2018.
Nonetheless, the gains were far outweighed by the losses and the news is far from positive on the whole. “The level of forest loss that we saw in 2019 is unacceptable, and one of the reasons that it's unacceptable is that we actually already know how to turn it around,” explained Frances Seymour of the World Resources institute. “If governments put into place good policies and enforce the law, forest loss goes down. But if governments relax restrictions on burning, or [are] signalling that they intend to open up indigenous territories for commercial exploration, forest loss goes up.”
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