Maryland University research has revealed the loss of tropical forests equivalent to the land area of Switzerland in the past year alone. These findings underscore a stark reality. The political commitment made by world leaders at COP26 to halt deforestation has veered off course.

The report highlights a surge in tree losses, with an astonishing rate of approximately 11 football pitches of forest disappearing every minute throughout 2022. The devastation is primarily attributed to Brazil, which dominated the destruction, accounting for a substantial portion of global deforestation. However, a sharp decline in forest loss in Indonesia offers a glimmer of hope.

At COP26, over 100 world leaders, including former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, pledged their commitment to the Glasgow Declaration on forests. This landmark agreement aimed to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The signatories represented countries covering nearly 85% of the world’s forests.

Rainforests in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia play a vital role in absorbing greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, the clearance or burning of these ancient forests leads to stored carbon release, intensifying global temperature rise.

Deforestation’s consequences extend far beyond the environmental impact. These forests support invaluable ecosystem services, sustaining biodiversity and livelihoods. Scientists caution that the loss of these ‘ecosystem services’ cannot be easily replaced by planting trees elsewhere. This is due to the unique development and biodiversity that have evolved over extensive periods.

Indonesia has successfully curbed its primary tropical forest loss. Government and corporate actions have contributed to this achievement. These actions include a permanent moratorium on logging in new palm oil plantations and intensified efforts to monitor and restrict fires.

Devastating deforestation rates

Brazil witnessed a disheartening 14% increase in deforestation rates in 2022. Deforestation rates in Amazonas state, home to more than half of Brazil’s intact forests, have doubled over three years. These distressing statistics underscore the urgent need for decisive action to address deforestation in Brazil and protect these crucial ecosystems.

Bolivia, a country that did not sign the Glasgow Declaration, experienced a rapid acceleration in forest losses in 2022. This was driven primarily by commodity agriculture, particularly soybean expansion. Ghana witnessed a shocking 71% increase in forest losses. It predominantly occurred in protected areas and is encroaching on existing cocoa farms, despite its limited remaining primary forests.

The urgency to address the escalating deforestation crisis has now reached a critical juncture. Failure to uphold Glasgow commitments jeopardises global climate change efforts. It affects the ecosystem’s biodiversity and the well-being of communities dependent on these forests. Swift and decisive actions are needed to reverse the current trajectory, protect vital forests, and honour the pledge to achieve zero deforestation by 2030.

The destruction of forests undermines their ability to provide essential ecosystem services, with severe consequences for both the environment and the livelihoods of millions of people. Preserving and restoring tropical primary forests is paramount to mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and sustaining local communities.

Need for immediate action

According to Maryland University’s data, the tropics experienced a 10% increase in primary rainforest loss in 2022 compared to the previous year. Over 4 million hectares (nearly 16,000 square miles) of forest were subjected to deforestation, with disastrous consequences. The carbon dioxide emissions resulting from this rampant deforestation are equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India, further exacerbating the global climate crisis.

These alarming figures underscore the urgency for immediate action to curb deforestation rates, uphold COP26 commitments, and implement effective strategies to preserve and restore these irreplaceable ecosystems. Tropical primary forests are a critical pillar in the global fight against climate change, safeguarding biodiversity and securing sustainable futures for local communities. The time for decisive action is now, as the consequences of inaction are too dire to ignore.