10 Facts About Deforestation in 2021

Endangered species and Deforestation in 2021

The following facts about deforestation in 2021 show that our planet is in a precarious position. We must leave our forests standing to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Trees absorb and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).1 They keep the greenhouse gas out of the Earth’s atmosphere.2 This prevents the CO2 from trapping heat and contributing to global warming.3 

Scientists have found that “forests and agriculture can get us at least a quarter of the way to meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C”.4 But this will be impossible to achieve if we continue cutting down our forests. Preventing a disastrous increase in global warming depends on stopping deforestation now. 

Facts about deforestation in 2021

Deforestation worldwide

1. The total globally forested area stands at about 4.06 billion hectares. However, it is decreasing every day.5

Roughly 420 million hectares of forest worldwide has been razed since 1990.6 In the same period, the global area of primary forest decreased by over 80 million hectares.7

The majority of this destruction took place in Africa and South America. Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Angola, Tanzania, Paraguay, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bolivia and Mozambique are the top countries for average annual net losses of forest area.8 These are also the countries most likely to experience further deforestation throughout 2021.

2. Agricultural expansion is the primary driver of deforestation and forest degradation.9 Some estimate agriculture is responsible for as much as 80 per cent of global deforestation.10

Land conversion for growing crops, raising livestock and products, such as paper, continues to be the leading cause of deforestation.11 Both large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence farming lead to substantial tree felling.12

Facts about deforestation and Indigenous Peoples

3. Indigenous Peoples safeguard 80 per cent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity.13

Indigenous Peoples make up just five per cent of the global population. They own, occupy or use a quarter of the world’s surface area.14 Much of this land is forested and highly biodiverse. 

But, both they and their forests are under threat from deforestation.

4. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, assassinations of Indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia have increased by more than 80 per cent.15

Over 250 activists were killed in the first ten months of 2020. This is the deadliest year on record for environmental and Indigenous defenders. Most murders are occurring in Colombia. The expansion of mines and cattle ranches fuel deforestation in the Amazonian country.16

5. Deforestation decreases by two-thirds on land in the Brazilian Amazon where Indigenous Peoples have full ownership rights. But, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is working to erode Indigenous protections and ownership.17

Indigenous Peoples “hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce climate and disaster risks”, according to the UN. However, many governments recognise only a fraction of Indigenous People’s land as formally or legally belonging to them.18

Invasions of Indigenous People’s land in Brazil increased 135 per cent in 2019.19 At least 18 people were murdered in land conflicts in the same year.20 Deforestation in 2021 threatens the rights and lives of Indigenous Peoples.21

Deforestation in Brazil

6. Since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, deforestation in Brazil has leapt by nearly 50 per cent. In 2020, it reached its highest level since 2008.22

Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is found within Brazil’s borders.23 The Brazilian government’s approach to deforestation is therefore critical. But the outlook for 2021 is not overly optimistic.

The Brazilian government passed 195 executive acts to dismantle or bypass environmental laws between March and May 2020 alone.24 In addition, IBAMA, the country’s leading environmental enforcement, issued 20 per cent fewer fines in 2020.25 This is concerning for everyone. The state of the Amazon affects us all. 

Indonesian deforestation in 2021

7. Indonesian deforestation will be easier for businesses in 2021. A massive deregulation bill passed in October 2020 removes requirements and environmental impact assessments for companies.26

The deregulation bill was compiled hastily – largely in secret – and with limited public input. Its measures include drastically stripping back environmental protections against coal mining.27 

It also recentralises the permitting process for plantations and mines. This limits who can raise objections to a project to those directly impacted. As a result, it hinders the ability of NGOs and conservation groups to challenge developments on behalf of small farmers and Indigenous communities.28

US President Biden and the Amazon rainforest

8. US President Biden has promised to provide USD $20 billion to protect the Amazon rainforest.29

The change in US leadership suggests a very different attitude regarding the world’s largest rainforest. Former US President Trump praised Bolsonaro’s approach to deforestation and forest degradation in Brazil.30 Now, thankfully, President Biden is moving forward on his pledge to protect the rainforest. 

Former US officials have drawn up an Amazon Protection Plan. It aims to calm tensions between the two countries whilst reducing deforestation.31 There is subsequently hope that pressure from the US will save one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. 

Tapanuli orangutan and palm oil

Palm oil and deforestation in 2021

9. Palm oil is one of the biggest causes of deforestation, affecting some of the Earth’s most biodiverse forests. Palm oil production affects the habitat of endangered plant and animal species.32 Because palm oil is so versatile, ubiquitous and cheap, it is difficult to persuade palm oil producers to change their manufacturing, despite its effects on tropical forests.

In 2020, there were estimated to be about 800 individuals of the Tapanuli orangutan. In 2021, it is on the critically endangered species list.33

The effects of tree cover on plant and animal species

10. 80 per cent of the world’s land animals and plants live in forests. Therefore, it is no surprise that deforestation threatens many endangered species such as the orangutan, which is heavily affected by palm oil manufacturing. Because cutting down trees results in a loss of the forest’s tree cover, there are more temperature swings in their habitat. Tree cover blankets sun-rays during the day and retains heat at night. These temperature swings are extremely harmful to plants and animals.34

Deforestation is therefore partly due to negligence from food and agriculture organisations.

As these facts about deforestation in 2021 demonstrate, time is running out for our precious forests.

Sources

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