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FACTBOX-Global tropical forest loss falls in 2021 but outlook bleak

by Michael Taylor | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 28 April 2022 09:41 GMT

A view of a deforested area in Rio Pardo, Rondonia state, Brazil, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

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Brazil saw the largest forest losses due to commercial clearing, followed by Democratic Republic of Congo, while palm oil giants Indonesia and Malaysia made headway in stemming deforestation

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Losses of the world's tropical forests stayed high in 2021, despite shrinking from 2020 as wet weather limited fires, analysts said Thursday, urging governments to act fast to meet a pledge by about 140 nations to end deforestation this decade.

The trend in primary forest loss has been consistent over the past several years, according to data from the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch (GFW), a tree-cover monitoring service run by the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

Although the tropics lost 11% less forest in 2021 than in the previous year, that came after a 12% increase in 2020 which was mostly due to higher fire-linked losses, researchers said.

ANALYSIS: Wet weather dampens rainforest loss in 2021 but world far off ending it

Here are some facts about forests and forest losses in 2021:

• Tropical primary forests are defined as areas of natural, mature, humid tropical forest cover that have not been cleared and re-grown in recent history.

• Cutting down tropical forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of planet-warming carbon emissions produced globally.

• Forests also provide food and livelihoods for local communities, are an essential habitat for wildlife, aid rainfall, and help combat flooding and rising temperatures.

• Worldwide, losses of tropical primary forest amounted to 3.75 million hectares (9.3 million acres) in 2021, a rate equal to 10 football pitches a minute.

• The top five countries for rainforest loss were Brazil at 1.55 million hectares, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at 499,000 hectares, Bolivia at 291,000 hectares, Indonesia at 203,000 hectares and Peru at 154,000 hectares.

• Tropical forest loss in 2021 led to 2.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India.

• Over 40% of last year's primary forest loss happened in Brazil, home to about a third of the world's remaining primary tropical rainforests.

• Many new hotspots of primary forest loss in the western Brazilian Amazon saw large-scale clearing – likely to create cattle pastures - along existing roads.

• Bolivia suffered record primary forest losses, with more than a third due to fires, which are usually set by people wanting to clear land to grow soybean or graze cattle.

• Losses in the DRC were due to expansion of small-scale farming and harvesting of wood to meet energy demand.

• In Southeast Asia, Indonesia's primary forest losses fell for a fifth straight year in 2021, down by 25% compared to 2020. These declines were largely due to a combined effort from businesses and the government to tackle deforestation after forest fires in 2015.

• Malaysia, which also saw its fifth year of deforestation declines, has lost nearly a fifth of its primary forest since 2001 and up to a third since the 1970s. Indonesia and Malaysia are the world's top-two palm oil producers, with oil palm mainly grown on plantations in forest areas.

• Tree cover loss in northern boreal forests was the highest on record in 2021, increasing by 30% from 2020.

• Russia experienced its worst fire season in two decades, with more than 6.5 million hectares of tree cover loss in 2021. Hotter, drier weather fuelled by climate change has created fire-prone conditions.

Sources: University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch

(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; 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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