Deforestation means the clearing of forest land. It can be a part of or even an entire forest that gets cut down. Throughout history, clearing forest land was common to create space for agriculture and animal grazing. Also, to use the wood for fuel, construction and manufacturing of paper.
Deforestation is a pressing issue worldwide as the activity releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases. More so, deforestation of essential areas on the planet can devastate the Earth’s climate. For example, the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest (read more on this below). Naturally, clearing land has a devastating effect on the ecosystems in the forests, which affects the world’s biodiversity and ability to fight climate change.
Forests are an important issue because they can act as “carbon sinks,” meaning they can store large amounts of CO2 if left standing. As a result, there is a growing effort to prevent deforestation.
Deforestation around the world
Today, forests still cover about 31 % of the planet. They are a very crucial part of life on Earth. Among things, forests help to purify water and air. In general, they help to stabilize the climate. More so, they are home to most of the world’s biodiversity – another crucial part of a healthy environment. Deforestation contributes significantly to endangering many of the world’s species. At the moment, global deforestation is continuing at an alarming rate. According to the United Nations, about 10 million hectares of forest were cut down annually from 2015 to 2020, which compares to the entire land area of Iceland every year.
Most of today’s deforestation happens in tropical forests. Such as the Amazon rainforest in South America. It is also common in areas that are supposed to be protected. Mainly due to farming but also for logging, palm oil and rubber tree plantations. Furthermore, to create fields for growing crops, used for the increased worldwide demand for biofuel.
In tropical forests, slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the biggest reasons for deforestation. This activity is commonly responsible for large and yearly forest fires. In detail, farmers set their land on fire to allow the ash to fertilize the land to grow better crops. The tragedy is that the fires spread quickly. More so, the new land is only fertile for a few years. Then, the farmers need to burn a new area.
A possible future scenario
For example, deforestation is pushing the forest to its tipping point in the Amazon rainforest. The human activities there are close to changing the landscape of the entire region (and beyond). If deforestation reaches over 25 % of the forest, scientists warn that the area can turn into a savanna. This massive change has consequences that go beyond imagination. For example, more than a third of South America’s rainfall would be affected, which could mean that the savanna would spread beyond the area of the Amazon. More so, the Amazon rainforest is currently storing a massive part of the world’s CO2. If it dies, immense amounts of CO2 will be released, contributing considerably to global warming.
Forests as carbon sinks
Forests are the second largest storage of carbon, after the oceans. They are the best and most cost-effective way to store carbon today. We can avoid up to 1/3 of global emissions by stopping deforestation and restoring forests.
Source: National Geographic, UNEP, MongaBay, WWF