The following article offers 10 facts about global deforestation. Deforestation involves the large-scale removal of trees to sell the wood and clear space for other purposes. The cleared land is most commonly used for agriculture, including grazing livestock or planting crops such as palm oil.1 Likewise, deforestation occurs for mining, oil-extraction and dam-building.2
Across the globe, deforestation is occurring at a disturbing rate. Huge swathes of forest are lost every day and the damage done is often irreversible.2 Indeed, the practice is considered the second biggest contributor to climate change.2 It is responsible for 18-25 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions.2 Trees sequester carbon as they grow, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere in the process.3 However, when they are cut down, they no longer remove CO2 and if they are burned, their stored carbon is returned to the atmosphere as CO2.3 Therefore, one measure to help prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperature is to stop deforestation and accelerate forest restoration.
Top 10 Facts about Deforestation (1-3)
1. Forests cover 31 percent of the Earth’s land area.4 To illustrate, this is the equivalent of around 45,981,000 square km of the Earth’s surface. The Amazon is by far the largest forest today. It covers 6.7 million square km and is twice the size of India.5
2. Despite covering less than a third of the Earth’s land, forests are home to 80 percent of terrestrial biodiversity.1 Subsequently, over half of the world’s 10 million species live in tropical rainforests and 25 percent of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from the rainforest.6 The Amazon rainforest is particularly biodiverse, home to around 10 percent of the planet’s remaining plants and animals. Many of the species living there have yet to be discovered. As such, deforestation is particularly damaging to ecosystems. It risks the mass extinction of animals, plants and even microbe.6
3. Humans cut down or otherwise remove 18.7 million acres of forest annually.4 This is the equivalent of 27 football pitches every minute or an area larger than the entire UK.7 Between 3.5 and 7 billion trees are cut down per year (depending on the density of forest being cleared).7 The trees are either cut down or cleared using fire.
Top 10 Facts about Deforestation (4-7)
4. Since the 1960s, almost half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed.8 In fact, every day, 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of rainforest are burned.8 This is around the same size as the city of Toulouse in France. The rate of deforestation increased in the first decade of the 21st Century and was 8.5 percent higher than during the 1990s.9
5. Virtually all forests are at risk but Indonesia has the highest deforestation rate in the world.8 The archipelago lost 15 million acres of forest between 2000 and 2012, largely due to the expansion of the palm oil industry.8 Efforts to reduce deforestation in the country have been introduced, such as strengthened law enforcement to prevent forest fires and land clearing, but more intervention is required.10
6. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is also on the rise.11 The last 50 years have seen nearly a fifth of the Amazon rainforest destroyed.11 In fact, in 2015 alone, an area the size of Cyprus was cut or burned down in Brazil.8 By the 2000s, clearing land for cattle ranching was the motivation behind more than three quarters of Brazil’s deforestation.12
7. All forests sequester carbon, but tropical forests in particular sequester a vast amount. They cover just eight percent of the world’s land surface yet hold more than 228 to 247 gigatons of carbon.4 This is over seven times the amount humans emit annually.4 However, forests’ ability to remove man-made CO2 emissions is declining.13 This is due to diminishing forest size, increasing CO2 emissions and the negative effects of droughts and higher temperatures that kill trees.13
Top 10 Facts about Deforestation (8-10)
8. Some 250 million people depend on forests for both subsistence and income.11 A large proportion of these people are also among the world’s rural poor.11 Furthermore, over a billion people worldwide depend on forests as a food, medicine and fuel source.14
9. Furthermore, logging is a primary cause of deforestation.15 In fact, illegal logging is responsible for between 15 and 30 percent of the global wood trade.15 Likewise, Interpol estimates that illegal logging is responsible for the majority of deforestation in the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia.15
10. Finally, less commonly known of the facts about deforestation: it causes soil erosion.16 Tree roots anchor the surrounding soil in place. But, chopping down trees displaces this soil, losing its rich nutrients in the process.16 Indeed, soil erosion can also lead to farming issues, clogged waterways, and dangerous mudslides.16
- Derouin, Sarah. Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects. Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html Published November 6, 2019. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Why are rainforests being destroyed? Rainforest Concern. https://www.rainforestconcern.org/forest-facts/why-are-rainforests-being-destroyed Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Pimm, Stuart L. Deforestation. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/deforestation Published March 24, 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Deforestation and Forest Degradation. World Wildlife. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation Accessed May 6, 2020.
- About the Amazon. WWF. https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/ Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Tropical Rainforest Destruction: Reasons and Consequences. Rainforest Maker. https://www.rainforestmaker.org/tropical-rainforest-destruction-reasons-and-consequences.html Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Harvey, Fiona. World losing area of forest the size of the UK each year, report finds. The Guardian. https://www.ran.org/the-understory/how_many_trees_are_cut_down_every_year/ Published September 12, 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Deforestation: 11 Facts You Need to Know. Conservation. https://www.conservation.org/stories/11-deforestation-facts-you-need-to-know Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World’s Rainforests. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/ Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Wijaya, Arief, Samadhi, Tjokorda Nirarta “Koni” and Juliane, Reidinar. Indonesia Is Reducing Deforestation, but Problem Areas Remain. World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/07/indonesia-reducing-deforestation-problem-areas-remain. Published July 24, 2019 Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Nunez, Christina. Deforestation explained. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/ Published February 7, 2019. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Butler, Rhett A. Amazon Destruction. Mongabay. https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_destruction.html Updated February 26, 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Cockburn, Harry. Tropical forests’ ability to absorb carbon nearing ‘tipping point’ and could soon accelerate climate crisis, study finds. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-tropical-forest-absorb-carbon-sequestration-amazon-a9375046.html Published March 4, 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- 2018: The State of the World’s Forests. FAO. http://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/ Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Amadeo, Kimberly. Deforestation Facts, Causes, Effects, and What You Can Do. The Balance. https://www.thebalance.com/deforestations-economic-impact-4163723 Updated August 24, 2019. Accessed May 6, 2020.
- Brierley, Kate. Wondering Why Deforestation Is Such a Big Deal? Here Are the Facts. Green Matters. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/why-is-deforestation-a-problem Updated April 22, 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020.