Year 2020’s Effect on Global Rainforests: Shocking Truth

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Global economy faces what most specialists consider the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Despite the COVID-19 recession, deforestation saw a shocking increase in 2020. According to a Global Forest Watch research, forest destruction went up by 12% in 2020 compared to the previous year. Out of the 12.2 million hectares destroyed, 4.2 million were located in rainforest areas.

Monitoring began in 2002, and 2020 ranks as the third worst in deforestation rate over that two-decade span. Destruction in humid rainforests is a major concern. Aside from the obvious impact on biodiversity, it could also bring damaging consequences to the global climate. Rainforests act as carbon dioxide deposits. Deforestation releases the gas back to the atmosphere. The 4.2 million hectares of rainforest destroyed in 2020 are equivalent to the annual emissions of 575 million cars.

A number of factors contributed to the increase in rainforest destruction over the course of 2020. While the pandemic significantly slowed the global economy down, that didn’t stop illegal activities. Climate change also contributed to this trend, leading to forest fires as a result of extended dry periods.

The situation becomes even worse when taking in consideration that 2020 was widely considered a landmark in the environmental fight. Despite pledges to cut or completely eliminate deforestation, reality paints a completely different picture. Not all hope is lost, however. While some countries, namely Brazil, produced new records in forest destruction, other countries did see a drop in these numbers.

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Brazil Tops Deforestation Charts Again

Brazil saw an increase in primary rainforest loss for the second straight year, topping the charts yet again. Deforestation went up by 25% compared to an already alarming rate in 2019, skyrocketing to 1.7 million hectares lost – Brazil’s worst numbers since 2008. That’s three times higher than the next country on the list, the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the trend only got worse in 2021. According to official government data, destruction in the Amazon went up by an alarming 43% in April. An increase in criminal fires is one of the driving forces behind this.

The Brazilian government has been under the international spotlight. President Jair Bolsonaro and recently ousted minister Ricardo Salles have systematically dismantled environmental regulations in the country. Defunding protection programs while clearing land for agriculture and cattle breeding.

Second on the list, the Democratic Republic of Congo lost 490,000 hectares of primary forest. Destruction in the country was carried primarily by small-scale agriculture and charcoal production. This problem could be solved by introducing new, more efficient and sustainable agriculture practices. Another solution would be shifting the focus towards clean energy, which would then reduce the need for charcoal.

Speaking of worrying trends, we cannot leave Cameroon out. The loss in primary rainforest doubled from 2019 to 2020. Global Forest Watch points out that urban-rural migration, a direct consequence of the pandemic recession, could be one of the reasons behind it. An increase in prices for palm oil and cocoa, two of the country’s key commodities, may have played a part as well.

Indonesia and Malaysia: A Glimmer of Hope?

The overall picture is undeniably grim, but there are some glimmers of hope. Indonesia and Malaysia went the opposite direction, as the two countries actually saw a decrease in primary forest loss last year. This is an ongoing trend, as deforestation numbers declined in Indonesia and Malaysia for a fourth consecutive year.

The successful cases become even more impressive considering that these two countries are the top producers of palm oil. A topic that has already been under the spotlight here at Slothino, palm oil production is one of the driving forces behind deforestation. Indonesia issued a temporary moratorium on palm tree plantation licenses, set to expire this year. Additionally, both Malaysia and Indonesia have been very active on the No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation front. The commitment currently covers 83% of all palm oil producers in these two countries. International regulation has also tightened up significantly in recent years.

It will be absolutely vital to keep up with these conservation efforts in the future. Global Forest Watch also points out that wet weather contributed by stopping fires from spreading. Extending the temporary moratorium on palm tree plantations would also be a major step forward.

It remains to be seen if primary rainforest destruction numbers will drop in 2021. As the global economy rebounds from the pandemic recession, an increase in demand for commodities could make matters worse.

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