Ten primary rainforest football fields destroyed every minute by 2021

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Significant swaths of rainforest will have burned or cut down by 2021, equivalent to “10 football fields per minute,” researchers warn Thursday (April 28).

Large swaths of tropical forests will be burned or cut down by 2021, replaced by crops or livestock, especially in Brazil, researchers warned on Thursday, as climate change makes conservation of forest cover more difficult.

According to the annual study by Global Forest Watch (GFW), the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the University of Maryland, about 11.1 million acres of forest were lost in the tropics last year, of which 3.75 million were in old-growth forests. “It’s 10 football fields a minute. And it’s been going on for a year,” Rod Taylor, head of the WRI’s forestry program, said of old-growth forests.

Destruction of these intact forests released 2.5 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2021, the equivalent of India’s annual emissions, according to the researchers’ calculations. More than 40% of the old-growth forest lost in 2021 was in Brazil, with about 1.5 million hectares felled or gone up in smoke, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo with nearly 500,000 hectares destroyed.

At nearly 300,000 hectares, Bolivia has seen its highest level of forest destruction since the measures began in 2001. Outside the tropics, the report shows that boreal forests in the northern hemisphere have suffered the greatest loss of forest cover in two decades.

Snowball effect

In Russia alone, an exceptional fire season resulted in the loss of 6.5 million hectares of forest, a record. The researchers warn of a possible “snowball effect,” in which more frequent fires lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere, fueling global warming and increasing the risk of wildfires.

This data is published as 141 world leaders pledged at COP26 in Glasgow at the end of 2021 to “stop and reverse forest loss by 2030”. Old-growth forest destruction will need to be greatly reduced each year until the end of the decade to reach this goal, the researchers warn. “Climate change itself is making it harder to conserve the forest we have left,” said WRI’s Frances Seymour, adding that it demonstrates the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent study suggests that the Amazon rainforest may be closer to a “tipping point” than previously estimated. It could turn into a savanna and release massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

“Disaster”

Brazil, home to about a third of the world’s remaining primary rainforest, has seen the rate of destruction of its forests accelerate in recent years. Non-fire destruction, often linked to the creation of agricultural areas according to WRI, has increased by 9% from 2020. In certain states in the western Brazilian Amazon, this percentage is above 25%.

“We already knew that these losses are a disaster for the climate. They are a disaster for biodiversity. They are a disaster for indigenous peoples and local communities,” emphasizes Frances Seymour, pointing out that recent studies show that forests also offer the opportunity for the atmosphere. In Indonesia, on the other hand, government and private sector actions have slowed primary forest loss by 25% compared to 2020, for the fifth consecutive year after very high levels.

However, the end of a temporary freeze on new palm oil business, as well as palm oil prices at their 40-year high, could undermine these efforts, WRI said. “Clearly we are not doing enough to provide incentives to those who are able to halt forest loss, to protect the remaining areas of old-growth forest,” said Frances Seymour.

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