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Deforestation means the clearing of forest land. It can be a part of or even an entire forest that is cut down. Throughout history, clearing of forest land was common to create space for agriculture and animal grazing. Also to use the wood for fuel, construction and the manufacturing of for example paper.  

Deforestation is a pressing issue around the world today. As the activity releases great amounts of greenhouse gases. More so, deforestation of important areas on the planet can have devastating effects on the Earth’s climate. For example, the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest (read more on this below). Naturally, the clearing of land has a devastating effect on the ecosystems in the forests. Which affects the world’s biodiversity and ability to work against climate change. Furthermore, forests are a pressing issue since they can function as “carbon sinks”. This means that large amounts of CO2 can be stored in the trees if they are not cut down. Therefore, there is an increase in the ambition to stop 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 greatly 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 every year in the period from 2015 to 2020. Which compares to the entire land area of Iceland, every year.

Tropical forests

The greatest part of today’s deforestation happens in tropical forests. Such as the Amazon rainforest in South America. It happens greatly in areas that are supposed to be protected as well. Mainly due to farming but also for logging, palm oil and rubber tree plantations. Furthermore, it creates fields for growing crops that are used for the increased demand for biofuel in the world. 

In tropical forests, slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the biggest reasons for deforestation. This activity is commonly responsible for the large and devastating forest fires that happen in the region every year. In detail, farmers set their land on fire to allow the ash to fertilize the land so they can grow crops. The tragedy is that the fires spread easily. More so, the new land is only fertile for a couple of years. Then, the farmers need to burn a new area.

A possible future scenario

If one takes the example of the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is pushing the forest to its tipping point. In this case, this means that the activities 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 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 that would replace it, would spread beyond the area of the Amazon. More so, the Amazon rainforest is currently storing a huge part of the world’s CO2. If it would die, immense amounts of CO2 would be released and contribute greatly 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. By stopping deforestation and restoring forests, up to 1/3 of global emissions can be avoided.

Source: National Geographic, UNEP, MongaBay, WWF

 


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