In 2022, it lost forests over an area the size of Switzerland

In 2022, it lost forests over an area the size of Switzerland

In 2021, at COP26 in Glasgow, 144 world leaders signed up to the agreement for forests and responsible land use, pledging to "stop and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030". The aim is the mitigation of global warming, which fuels the ongoing climate crisis. Among the signatories were also the then president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Well, few will be surprised to know that they are failing. According to the latest report from the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute (WRI), in 2022 the loss of tropical forest trees increased compared to 2021: we are talking about 4 1 million hectares, the equivalent of 11 football pitches per minute. An area the size of the whole of Switzerland. All of this has produced 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India, the third largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions behind China and the United States.

The report

The IPCC report: "Immediately adopt all available measures to cut emissions"

by Cristina Nadotti

The loss of tree cover, underlines Global Forest Watch, is not synonymous with deforestation, because it can depend on the seasonal rhythms of crops and other factors such as sustainable management of logging, however it is an indicator. Deforestation means the cutting of trees from areas that are then destined for other uses, such as agriculture or livestock. A definite loss, in short. But deforestation proper has also increased, compared to 2021: in total, forests in the world (therefore not only tropical and equatorial ones) lost 6.6 million hectares last year.

Amazonia: Bolsonaro's Brazil and Bolivia

Impossible not to start with Brazil, which is home to the largest rainforest in the world and which contributes over 40 percent to the more than four million hectares of tree cover that is now missing. These figures have been increasing during Bolsonaro's presidency, with an increase of 15% from 2021 to 2022 (which is also the last year of his presidency). Last year was also the year in which the most hectares (1.3 million) were lost, excluding fires, since 2005. Chopped logs, mostly.

Particularly worrying is the state of Amazonas, which hosts a large part of the rainforest, and which in three years has doubled the consumption of land through the felling of trees mainly to make pastures or crops. That's the highest figure for more than 20 years, according to the report. This often results in the threat to territories populated and administered by indigenous peoples, the more responsible management of which, however, results in a lower rate of deforestation. The hope, explicit in the analysis, is that with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, under whose presidency and then under that of Dilma Rousseff, between 2003 and 2016, deforestation had slowed down, this trend could be reversed again. These losses, it is estimated, are worth 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, two and a half times the emissions of the whole of Brazil each year.

The report

Kayak with the indigenous people to see how the climate is changing the Amazon

by Matteo Marino

On the other side of the border is Bolivia, one of the states that has not signed the COP26 declaration of 2021. Here the removal of trees and the consequent deforestation serve to make room for agricultural land and pastures, generating the greatest loss of tree cover since 2000. A third of this advance is driven by fires, another method for the advancement of business in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Soy cultivation alone (to produce biofuel) has reclaimed one million hectares of forest since the beginning of the century.

For the Democratic Republic of Congo, trees are energy

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the "hotspots" when it comes to fires, small and widespread. Satellite images show, in some seasons, a concentration of fires in those regions, due to agricultural needs, but above all to the production of coal. But it is also the second country in the world as a cover of virgin forests. Trees are being cut down to supply the energy demand of a population that largely does not yet have access to electricity and uses coal for cooking as well as to power generators. All this makes the Democratic Republic of Congo the second contributor in this ranking of the loss of tree cover, which has remained substantially stable for some years, at around half a million hectares.

The fires identified in sub-Saharan Africa by the Modis sensor of the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites on June 26, 2023

The fires identified in sub-Saharan Africa by the Modis sensor of the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites on June 26, 2023

Overall, it's hard not to notice that the greatest losses of the world's largest virgin forests, and related deforestation, occur within the borders of countries whose economies are poor, very poor, or highly unbalanced. Brazil, Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are examples of this. The forest thus becomes no longer a natural cathedral, but a mine to be exploited or a volume to be leveled to make room for more profitable activities in the immediate future.

Some say no

But there is also some good news. Indonesia, for example, which with 230,000 hectares is the fourth in terms of lost tree cover, reduced the cutting of virgin forests by 64% as an average 2020-2022 compared to 2015-2017, Costa Rica -63%, China - 60% and Malaysia -57%. Unfortunately, however, these are numbers that count relatively, compared to the gigantic numbers of Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bolivia, which alone account for more than 65% of this budget.


Forests alone will not be able to help us much longer

by Sara Carmignani

In the rest of the globe the situation is more stable. The loss of total global tree cover (which includes primary forests, i.e. virgin, secondary, regrown, and planted forests) decreased by 10 percent in 2022, mostly, the report reads, because it was a year more "quiet" from the point of view of fires (-28 percent compared to the previous year). Leading the descent above all Russia, which experienced an annus horribilis in 2021 with over 5 million hectares gone up in smoke. These are phenomena not necessarily linked to the hand of man, a bolt of lightning is enough to start a fire in desolate lands, difficult to reach and therefore to tame in time. Despite a year in decline, what matters is that compared to 20 years ago, the data says that fires burn twice as many trees. And this is a result attributable to climate change, the greenhouse effect and CO22 in the atmosphere that burned or cut forests will no longer be able to help us store.

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