But in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, deforestation is at its highest level in more than 15 years, and elsewhere progress is difficult.
Brazil: illegal Logging Continues
Some 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, and it plays a vital role in absorbing harmful CO2 that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. After declining steadily since 2004, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has started to rise again, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
Its latest report indicates that deforestation has increased by 22% over the past year, with a loss of 13,235 km2 of forest. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is criticized for his “anti-environmental” policies, especially for encouraging agriculture and mining in the Amazon.
It cuts funding for government agencies responsible for prosecuting farmers and loggers who violate environmental laws. Fines for illegal logging drop 20% in 2020.
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Exact figures are not available, but recent studies suggest that up to 94% of deforestation and habitat destruction in Brazil could be illegal.
Brazil is not the only country responsible for deforestation in the Amazon – neighboring countries, including Bolivia, are also contributing.
Last year, Bolivia lost nearly 300,000 hectares of rainforest, the fourth-largest loss in the world.
Congo Basin: Agriculture And Mining
The Congo Forest Basin is the second-largest rainforest in the world. More than half of it is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Greenpeace, an environmental group, says illegal logging of forests, by large and small businesses, leads to deforestation. Although the United States and the European Union have banned the importation of illegal timber, it is still being smuggled out of the country.
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Small-scale subsistence agriculture, deforestation for charcoal and fuel production, urban expansion, and mining are other threats.
Over the past five years, the annual loss of primary forest is nearly half a million hectares, according to Global Forest Watch.
Last month, President Felix Tshisekedi ordered an audit of some of the leases awarded for the exploitation of public forests – including one covering more than 1.4 million hectares – against the backdrop of allegations of corruption. This measure is welcomed by activists.
But earlier this year, the government also announced a plan to lift a 2002 ban on new logging operations – although it has yet to be implemented.
According to Greenpeace, this would contradict commitments made earlier this year to protect the forest and increase forest cover by 8%.
Indonesia: Palm Oil Plantations
Indonesia is among the top five countries in the world for forest loss over the past two decades. According to data from Global Forest Watch, the country lost 9.75 million hectares of primary forest between 2002 and 2020.
President Joko Widodo pledged in 2014 to crack down on deforestation by attacking the main contributor – the clearing of land for oil palm plantations. Up to 80% of fires are started for this purpose, according to official data.
In 2016, a record 929,000 hectares of forests were lost, but the rate of deforestation has been steadily declining since then.
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In 2019, President Widodo decreed a three-year moratorium on new forest clearing, covering approximately 66 million hectares of primary forests and peatlands. This measure is extended indefinitely this year.
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Forests absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a major contributor to global warming – and tree felling can therefore have a significant impact on climate change. According to the United Nations, 420 million hectares of forests have disappeared since 1990. Agriculture is the main cause.
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More than 100 world leaders pledge to end deforestation and reverse the trend by 2030, at the COP26 summit. Efforts are already being made to protect forests. In 2014, the UN announced an agreement to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030.
Then, in 2017, it set another target to increase forest land by 3% globally by 2030.
But deforestation has continued at “an alarming rate,” according to a 2019 report, with serious consequences for the fight against climate change.
There has been some reforestation, by natural growth or by planting, but trees need years to mature before they can fully absorb CO2.
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Over the past decade, 4.7 million hectares of forest are still lost each year – Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia being among the countries most affected.