Pandemic piles pressure on world's shrinking forests

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 22 May 2020 16:00 GMT

A view of a deforested area at the National Forest Bom Futuro in Rio Pardo, Rondonia state, Brazil, September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

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The pandemic is putting forests at risk as already poor people who have lost work cut trees for cooking fuel

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By Thin Lei Win

ROME, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Forests face an increased risk of being cut down and degraded as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a senior U.N. official said on Friday.

For millions of poor people who have lost casual work in cities and are returning to their homes in rural areas, "the only social safety net they have is the waters, the land and the forest", Mette Wilkie told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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That makes it more likely trees will be felled for food and fuel because a third of the world's people still depend on wood to cook, said Wilkie, director of the forestry division at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The warning came as the FAO and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched "The State of the World's Forests 2020" report, on the International Day for Biological Diversity.

Here are 10 key facts from the report:

1. The emergence of new infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, may be linked to forest loss and humans moving into forest areas, exposing people to wildlife and facilitating the transition of viruses from animals to humans.

2. Between 2015 and 2020, the world lost an estimated 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) of forests per year, down from an annual 16 million hectares in the 1990s. While deforestation has slowed, progress has been uneven, with population growth driving a rise in Africa.

3. Since 1990, an estimated 420 million hectares of forest have been lost, more than three times the size of South Africa.

4. Farm expansion is the main driver of tropical deforestation, with 40% coming from large-scale agriculture - mainly cattle ranching and planting of soy bean and oil palm. A third is from small-scale farming.

5. Forests cover only 31% of the global land area but are home to 80% of all amphibian species, 75% of bird species, and 68% of mammal species.

6. More than half the world's forests are located in only five countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.

7. Forests provide essential services human rely on. Three-quarters of accessible fresh water comes from forested watersheds, and 35% of global food production benefits from animal pollination.

8. Around the world, 1 billion people depend on wild foods and 2.4 billion use wood for cooking, while more than nine out of 10 people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for at least part of their livelihoods.

9. Areas managed by indigenous peoples account for about 28% of the world's land surface and include some of its most ecologically intact forests.

10. Globally, 18% of forest areas are protected, but natural reserves are not sufficient to conserve biodiversity. They tend to be small, making it hard for species to migrate, and are vulnerable to climate change.

Sources: The State of the World's Forests 2020, FAO, UNEP

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(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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