Africa should aim at stopping loss and degradation of forests

29Oct 2019
The Guardian
Africa should aim at stopping loss and degradation of forests

learing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 31 per cent of Earth's land-

-surface is covered by forests.  

Deforestation can occur for several reasons: trees can be cut down to be used for building or sold as fuel (sometimes in the form of charcoal or timber), while cleared land can be used as pasture for livestock and plantation. The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in habitat damage, biodiversity loss, and aridity  Deforestation has also been used in war to deprive the enemy of vital resources and cover for its forces. Modern examples of this were the use of Agent Orange by the British military in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency and by the United States military in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

A landmark pledge known as the New York Declaration on Forests   aimed at stopping the loss and degradation of forests is falling short of its goals, according to a new report released recently

Since the declaration was launched five years ago, deforestation has not only continued — it has actually accelerated,” Charlotte Streck, the director and a co-founder of the think tank Climate Focus, said in a statement.

“We must redouble efforts to stop forest loss, especially in primary tropical forests, and restore as many forests as possible before the irreversible impacts of losing trees further threatens our climate and food security.”

But the report on the progress toward those goals, employing analyses of science, policy and trends over the past five years by Climate Focus and 24 other organizations, reveals that overall the signatories aren’t likely to meet the first set of commitments in 2020. Progress toward the broader goals of the declaration also appear to be off track, with potentially disastrous repercussions for biodiversity, climate change mitigation and the millions of people around the world who depend on forests for their livelihoods, the authors say.

Worldwide deforestation, primarily for large-scale agriculture and timber, is up by 40 percent compared to what it was in 2014 when the signatories inked the declaration. The research shows that the world lost an average of more than 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) per year between 2014 and 2018. That’s an area larger than either the United Kingdom or the U.S. state of Oregon.

In the past five years, South American countries lost the greatest total area of forests, especially the Amazon countries of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil. The fastest pace of deforestation over the same period was in West and Central Africa, rising by 146 percent since 2014.

The assessment also shows that the companies that signed the NYDF aren’t making headway toward their goals of ending deforestation in the production of the goods they sell.

With the right policies, countries too can slash their deforestation rates, the authors say. Indonesia, with the world’s third-largest bank of tropical forest, has cut forest loss by around 30 percent since 2014. The authors of the assessment credit those gains to strong government action and banning development on peatlands.

Brazil was once a leader in combating deforestation. Similar to in Indonesia, measures such as a soy moratorium and a strengthened forest code helped bring forest loss rates down sharply between 2004 and 2012.

But now rates of deforestation in the country, which has more tropical forest than anywhere else, have crept back up recently, helping to fuel the fires in the Amazon that have featured prominently in recent media reports.