Forest loss ‘hotspots’ bigger than Germany: WWF

PARIS (AFP) – More than 43 million hectares – an area bigger than Germany – of forest have been lost in a little over a decade in just a handful of deforestation hotspots, conservation organisation World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Wednesday.

Swathes of forest continue to be flattened each year – mainly due to industrial-scale agriculture – as biodiversity-rich areas are cleared to create space for livestock and crops.

Analysis by WWF found that just 29 sites across South America, Africa and Southeast Asia were responsible for more than half of the global forest loss.

The Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, the Bolivian Amazon, Paraguay, Argentina, Madagascar, along with Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia were among the worst affected, it said.

In Brazil’s Cerrado region, home to five per cent of the planet’s animals and plants, land has been cleared rapidly for soy and cattle production, leading to a 32.8-per- cent loss of forest area between 2004-2017.

File photo shows an aerial view of illegal deforestation at the Natural National Park in La Macarena, in Colombia. PHOTO: AFP

The United Nations’ (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a groundbreaking report on land use in 2019, in which it outlined a string of looming trade-offs in using land.

In that same year, the UN’s biodiversity panel said that 75 per cent of all land on Earth had been “severely degraded” by human activity.

Forests are an enormous carbon sink, together with other vegetation and soil sucking up roughly a third of all the carbon pollution humans produce annually.

Yet they continue to disappear rapidly, threatening irreparable losses to Earth’s crucial biodiversity.

And, as wild species find their living space shrink further each year, the risk of a repeat of zoonotic diseases – such as the Covid-19 pandemic – jumping to humans is ever higher. “We must address over-consumption and put greater value on health and nature rather than the current overwhelming emphasis on economic growth and financial profits at all cost,” said Forest Practice lead at WWF International Fran Raymond Price.

“This is in humanity’s best interests: the risk of new diseases emerging is higher in tropical forest regions that are experiencing land-use change.”

Price warned that if deforestation was not rapidly curbed, “we could miss out on our chance to help prevent the next pandemic”.

There is also a huge threat to indigenous communities that have lived off what forests provide for centuries or longer.