RAINFOREST INFORMATION

By Rhett A. Butler  Last updated Aug 14, 2020

A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils They Face - information on tropical forests, deforestation, and biodiversity

RAINFOREST FACTS

  • Tropical forests presently cover about 1.84 billion hectares or about 12 percent of Earth's land surface (3.6% of Earth's surface).
  • The world's largest rainforest is the Amazon rainforest
  • Brazil has the largest extent of rainforest cover, including nearly two-thirds of the Amazon.
  • Rainforests also exist outside the tropics, including temperate North America, South America, Australia, and Russia.
  • An estimated 50 percent of terrestrial biodiversity is found in rainforests
  • Rainforests are thought to store at least 250 billion tons of carbon
  • Deforestation and degradation of tropical forests account for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse emissions from human activities

 

Sections:

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE RAINFOREST

Rainforests are forest ecosystems characterized by high levels of rainfall, an enclosed canopy and high species diversity. While tropical rainforests are the best-known type of rainforest and the focus of this section of the web site, rainforests are actually found widely around the world, including temperate regions in Canada, the United States, and the former Soviet Union.

Tropical rainforests typically occur in the equatorial zone between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, latitudes that have warm temperatures and relatively constant year-round sunlight. Tropical rainforests merge into other types of forest depending on the altitude, latitude, and various soil, flooding, and climate conditions. These forest types form a mosaic of vegetation types which contribute to the incredible diversity of the tropics.

The bulk of the world's tropical rainforest occurs in the Amazon Basin in South America. The Congo Basin and Southeast Asia, respectively, have the second and third largest areas of tropical rainforest. Rainforests also exist on some the Caribbean islands, in Central America, in India, on scattered islands in the South Pacific, in Madagascar, in West and East Africa outside the Congo Basin, in Central America and Mexico, and in parts of South America outside the Amazon. Brazil has the largest extent of rainforest of any country on Earth.

 

Rainforests provide important ecological services, including storing hundreds of billions of tons of carbon, buffering against flood and drought, stabilizing soils, influencing rainfall patterns, and providing a home to wildlife and Indigenous people. Rainforests are also the source of many useful products upon which local communities depend.

While rainforests are critically important to humanity, they are rapidly being destroyed by human activities. The biggest cause of deforestation is conversion of forest land for agriculture. In the past subsistence agriculture was the primary driver of rainforest conversion, but today industrial agriculture — especially monoculture and livestock production — is the dominant driver of rainforest loss worldwide. Logging is the biggest cause of forest degradation and usually proceeds deforestation for agriculture.

Organization of this site

The rainforest section of Mongabay is divided into ten "chapters" (the original text for the site was a book, but has since been adapted for the web), with add-on content in the form of special focal sections (e.g. The Amazon, the Congo, REDD, New Guinea, Sulawesi, Forests in Brazil, etc), appendices, and other resources.

There is also a version of the site geared toward younger readers at kids.mongabay.com.

Tropical rainforest in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

ABOUT THE RAINFOREST (SUMMARY)

Chapter 1:

RAINFOREST DISTRIBUTION AND CHARACTERISTICS

Each rainforest is unique, but there are certain features common to all tropical rainforests.

  • Location: rainforests lie in the tropics.
  • Rainfall: rainforests receive at least 80 inches (200 cm) of rain per year.
  • Canopy: rainforests have a canopy, which is the layer of branches and leaves formed by closely spaced rainforest trees some 30 meters (100 feet) off the ground. A large proportion of the plants and animals in the rainforest live in the canopy.
  • Biodiversity: rainforests have extraordinarily highs level of biological diversity or “biodiversity”. Scientists estimate that about half of Earth's terrestrial species live in rainforests.
  • Ecosystem services: rainforests provide a critical ecosystem services at local, regional, and global scales, including producing oxygen (tropical forests are responsible for 25-30 percent of the world's oxygen turnover) and storing carbon (tropical forests store an estimated 229-247 billion tons of carbon) through photosynthesis; influencing precipitation patterns and weather; moderating flood and drought cycles; and facilitating nutrient cycling; among others.

The global distribution of tropical rainforests can be broken up into four biogeographical realms based roughly on four forested continental regions: the Afrotropical, the Australiasian, the Indomalayan/Asian, and the Neotropical. Just over half the world's rainforests lie in the Neotropical realm, roughly a quarter are in Africa, and a fifth in Asia.

Map showing the world's rainforests, defined as primary forests in the tropics. Click to enlarge.

These realms can be further divided into major tropical forest regions based on biodiversity hotspots, including:

  1. Amazon: Includes parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela
  2. Congo: Includes parts of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo
  3. Australiasia: Includes parts of Australia, Indonesian half of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea
  4. Sundaland: Includes parts of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
  5. Indo-Burma: Includes parts of Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam
  6. Mesoamerica: Includes parts of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama
  7. Wallacea: Sulawesi and the Maluku islands in Indonesia
  8. West Africa: Includes parts of Benin, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo
  9. Atlantic forest: Includes parts of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay
  10. Choco: Includes parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama

Dozens of countries have tropical forests. The countries with the largest areas of tropical forest are:

  • Brazil
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • Indonesia
  • Peru
  • Colombia

Other countries that have large areas of rainforest include Bolivia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ecuador, Gabon, Guyana, India, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Cover and loss by rainforest region

Primary forest extentTree cover extent
Rainforest region200120102020200120102020
Amazon556.7543.5526.2673.4658.6628.9
Congo173.7172.2167.6301.2300.3287.7
Australiasia61.865.464.476.391.389.1
Sundaland39.957.351.067.7121.6103.1
Indo-Burma15.342.640.137.8153.0139.1
Mesoamerica43.717.416.0160.354.349.8
Wallacea18.115.214.656.226.124.5
West Africa9.810.910.215.648.541.8
Atlantic forest11.19.79.349.396.389.0
Choco10.08.58.499.815.915.6
PAN-TROPICS1,029.61,006.5969.12,028.31,959.41,839.1

 

Primary forest lossTree cover change
2002-092010-192002-092010-19
Rainforest regionM ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)
Amazon-13.18 (-2.4%)-17.28 (-3.2%)-14.7 (-2.2%)-29.8 (-4.5%)
Congo-1.46 (-0.8%)-4.68 (-2.7%)-0.8 (-0.3%)-12.7 (-4.2%)
Australiasia-0.29 (-0.5%)-0.86 (-1.3%)0.2 (0.2%)-1.4 (-1.5%)
Sundaland-2.22 (-5.5%)-3.67 (-6.4%)-1.5 (-2.3%)-9.5 (-7.8%)
Indo-Burma-1.62 (-10.5%)-2.14 (-5.0%)-0.6 (-1.6%)-6.4 (-4.2%)
Mesoamerica-1.10 (-2.5%)-2.51 (-14.4%)-7.3 (-4.6%)-13.9 (-25.6%)
Wallacea-0.66 (-3.6%)-1.36 (-8.9%)-1.9 (-3.3%)-4.6 (-17.5%)
West Africa-0.30 (-3.1%)-0.50 (-4.6%)-0.1 (-0.8%)-1.2 (-2.4%)
Atlantic forest-0.24 (-2.1%)-0.62 (-6.4%)-0.7 (-1.5%)-6.8 (-7.0%)
Choco-0.33 (-3.3%)-0.35 (-4.1%)-3.5 (-3.5%)-7.3 (-46.0%)
PAN-TROPICS-23.11 (-2.2%)-37.34 (-3.7%)-68.9 (-3.4%)-120.3 (-6.1%)

 

Bar chart showing the world's largest rainforests as defined by the area of primary forest cover according to Hansen / WRI 2020.
Bar chart showing the world's largest rainforests as defined by the area of primary forest cover according to Hansen / WRI 2020.
Tropical primary forest cover and tree cover by country in 2020

Tropical forest cover and loss by country

Units: million hectaresPrimary forest extentTree cover extent
2001
Country200120102020200120102020
Brazil343.2331.9318.7516.4498.1468.2
DR Congo104.6103.499.8198.8198.5188.0
Indonesia93.890.284.4159.8157.7141.7
Colombia54.854.253.381.681.779.3
Peru69.168.567.277.978.676.5
Bolivia40.839.938.164.462.758.9
Venezuela38.638.538.156.457.356.1
Angola2.52.42.349.748.346.8
Central African Republic7.47.37.246.947.146.6
Papua New Guinea32.632.431.942.942.941.9
Mexico9.29.08.643.342.540.3
China1.71.71.742.841.138.5
Myanmar14.013.813.542.840.938.2
India10.210.19.935.131.430.2
Cameroon19.119.018.530.629.728.7
Republic of Congo21.221.120.826.426.626.0
Argentina4.44.24.030.927.624.9
Gabon22.722.622.424.724.724.4
Malaysia15.915.013.329.128.623.8
Mozambique0.10.10.126.625.023.1
Tanzania0.70.70.721.820.619.3
Guyana17.317.317.219.019.118.9
Ecuador10.610.610.518.318.518.1
Thailand5.95.95.819.819.017.7
Philippines4.64.54.418.318.117.4
Paraguay3.53.02.523.920.216.6
Zambia0.30.30.318.517.416.6
Laos8.38.17.519.117.915.4
Suriname12.812.712.613.914.013.9
Rest of the tropics59.658.053.9210.1203.5183.3
Grand Total1,029.61,006.5969.12,009.71,959.41,839.1

 

Primary forest lossTree cover change
2002-092010-20192002-092010-2019
CountryM ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)
Brazil-11.37 (-3.3%)-13.15 (-4.0%)-18.25 (-3.5%)-29.93 (-6.0%)
DR Congo-1.16 (-1.1%)-3.67 (-3.5%)-0.37 (-0.2%)-10.50 (-5.3%)
Indonesia-3.63 (-3.9%)-5.85 (-6.5%)-2.09 (-1.3%)-15.98 (-10.1%)
Colombia-0.54 (-1.0%)-0.96 (-1.8%)0.17 (0.2%)-2.43 (-3.0%)
Peru-0.60 (-0.9%)-1.37 (-2.0%)0.68 (0.9%)-2.10 (-2.7%)
Bolivia-0.90 (-2.2%)-1.84 (-4.6%)-1.67 (-2.6%)-3.75 (-6.0%)
Venezuela-0.15 (-0.4%)-0.33 (-0.9%)0.86 (1.5%)-1.14 (-2.0%)
Angola-0.03 (-1.2%)-0.09 (-3.8%)-1.37 (-2.8%)-1.51 (-3.1%)
Central African Republic-0.05 (-0.6%)-0.11 (-1.5%)0.15 (0.3%)-0.49 (-1.0%)
Papua New Guinea-0.19 (-0.6%)-0.55 (-1.7%)0.04 (0.1%)-1.05 (-2.4%)
Mexico-0.20 (-2.1%)-0.40 (-4.4%)-0.81 (-1.9%)-2.22 (-5.2%)
China-0.03 (-1.9%)-0.04 (-2.4%)-1.67 (-3.9%)-2.66 (-6.5%)
Myanmar-0.19 (-1.4%)-0.38 (-2.8%)-1.90 (-4.4%)-2.70 (-6.6%)
India-0.13 (-1.2%)-0.20 (-2.0%)-3.67 (-10.5%)-1.18 (-3.8%)
Cameroon-0.11 (-0.6%)-0.50 (-2.6%)-0.96 (-3.1%)-1.02 (-3.4%)
Republic of Congo-0.07 (-0.3%)-0.25 (-1.2%)0.28 (1.0%)-0.60 (-2.2%)
Argentina-0.19 (-4.4%)-0.21 (-5.0%)-3.31 (-10.7%)-2.69 (-9.8%)
Gabon-0.08 (-0.3%)-0.16 (-0.7%)0.02 (0.1%)-0.29 (-1.2%)
Malaysia-0.98 (-6.2%)-1.65 (-11.0%)-0.47 (-1.6%)-4.84 (-16.9%)
Mozambique0.00 (-1.6%)-0.01 (-7.5%)-1.60 (-6.0%)-1.95 (-7.8%)
Tanzania-0.01 (-0.9%)-0.02 (-2.8%)-1.21 (-5.5%)-1.31 (-6.3%)
Guyana-0.03 (-0.2%)-0.09 (-0.5%)0.07 (0.3%)-0.14 (-0.8%)
Ecuador-0.05 (-0.5%)-0.12 (-1.2%)0.20 (1.1%)-0.43 (-2.3%)
Thailand-0.07 (-1.2%)-0.05 (-0.9%)-0.75 (-3.8%)-1.31 (-6.9%)
Philippines-0.05 (-1.1%)-0.09 (-2.1%)-0.18 (-1.0%)-0.80 (-4.4%)
Paraguay-0.46 (-13.3%)-0.53 (-17.7%)-3.69 (-15.4%)-3.60 (-17.8%)
Zambia0.00 (-1.0%)-0.02 (-6.5%)-1.07 (-5.8%)-0.77 (-4.4%)
Laos-0.23 (-2.7%)-0.55 (-6.8%)-1.15 (-6.0%)-2.58 (-14.4%)
Suriname-0.02 (-0.2%)-0.10 (-0.8%)0.05 (0.4%)-0.14 (-1.0%)
Rest of the tropics-1.59 (-2.7%)-4.04 (-7.0%)-6.59 (-3.1%)-20.17 (-9.9%)
Grand Total-23.11 (-2.2%)-37.34 (-3.7%)-50.27 (-2.5%)-120.27 (-6.1%)

 

Chapter 2:

RAINFOREST STRUCTURE

Rainforests are characterized by a unique vegetative structure consisting of several vertical layers including the overstory, canopy, understory, shrub layer, and ground level. The canopy refers to the dense ceiling of leaves and tree branches formed by closely spaced forest trees. The upper canopy is 100-130 feet above the forest floor, penetrated by scattered emergent trees, 130 feet or higher, that make up the level known as the overstory. Below the canopy ceiling are multiple leaf and branch levels known collectively as the understory. The lowest part of the understory, 5-20 feet (1.5-6 meters) above the floor, is known as the shrub layer, made up of shrubby plants and tree saplings.

Chapter 3:

RAINFOREST BIODIVERSITY

Tropical rainforests support the greatest diversity of living organisms on Earth. Although they cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, rainforests house more than 50 percent of the plants and animals on the planet.

There are several reasons why rainforests are so diverse. Some important factors are:
  • Climate: because rainforests are located in tropical regions, they receive a lot of sunlight. The sunlight is converted to energy by plants through the process of photosynthesis. Since there is a lot of sunlight, there is a lot of energy in the rainforest. This energy is stored in plant vegetation, which is eaten by animals. The abundance of energy supports an abundance of plant and animal species.
  • Canopy: the canopy structure of the rainforest provides an abundance of places for plants to grow and animals to live. The canopy offers sources of food, shelter, and hiding places, providing for interaction between different species. For example, there are plants in the canopy called bromeliads that store water in their leaves. Frogs and other animals use these pockets of water for hunting and laying their eggs.
  • Competition: while there is lots of energy in the rainforest system, life is not easy for most species that inhabit the biome. In fact, the rainforest is an intensively competitive place, with species developing incredible strategies and innovations to survive, encouraging specialization.
While species everywhere are known for utilizing symbiotic relationships with other species to survive, the biological phenomenon is particularly abundant in rainforests.

 

Chapter 4:

THE RAINFOREST CANOPY

In the rainforest most plant and animal life is not found on the forest floor, but in the leafy world known as the canopy. The canopy, which may be over 100 feet (30 m) above the ground, is made up of the overlapping branches and leaves of rainforest trees. Scientists estimate that more than half of life in the rainforest is found in the trees, making this the richest habitat for plant and animal life.

The conditions of the canopy are markedly different from the conditions of the forest floor. During the day, the canopy is drier and hotter than other parts of the forest, and the plants and animals that live there have adapted accordingly. For example, because the amount of leaves in the canopy can make it difficult to see more than a few feet, many canopy animals rely on loud calls or lyrical songs for communication. Gaps between trees mean that some canopy animals fly, glide, or jump to move about in the treetops. Meanwhile plants have evolved water-retention mechanisms like waxy leaves.

Scientists have long been interested in studying the canopy, but the height of trees made research difficult until recently. Today the canopy is commonly accessed using climbing gear, rope bridges, ladders, and towers. Researchers are even using model airplanes and quadcopters outfitted with special sensors — conservation drones — to study the canopy.



Chapter 5:

The rainforest floor

The rainforest floor is often dark and humid due to constant shade from the leaves of canopy trees. The canopy not only blocks out sunlight, but dampens wind and rain, and limits shrub growth.

Despite its constant shade, the ground floor of the rainforest is the site for important interactions and complex relationships. The forest floor is one of the principal sites of decomposition, a process paramount for the continuance of the forest as a whole. It provides support for trees responsible for the formation of the canopy and is also home to some of the rainforest's best-known species, including gorillas, tigers, tapirs, and elephants, among others.

Rainforest in Tangkoko National Park, North Sulawesi Province, Indonesia in 2017. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Chapter 6:

Rainforest waters

Tropical rainforests support some of the largest rivers in the world, like the Amazon, Mekong, Negro, Orinoco, and Congo. These mega-rivers are fed by countless smaller tributaries, streams, and creeks. For example, the Amazon alone has some 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 1,000 miles long. Although large tropical rivers are fairly uniform in appearance and water composition, their tributaries vary greatly.

Rainforest waters are home to a wealth of wildlife that is nearly as diverse as the biota on land. For example, more than 5,600 species of fish have been identified in the Amazon Basin alone.

But like rainforests, tropical ecosystems are also threatened. Dams, deforestation, channelization and dredging, pollution, mining, and overfishing are chief dangers.

Chapter 7:

Rainforest people

Tropical rainforests have long been home to tribal peoples who rely on their surroundings for food, shelter, and medicines. Today very few forest people live in traditional ways; most have been displaced by outside settlers, have been forced to give up their lifestyles by governments, or have chosen to adopt outside customs.

Of the remaining forest people, the Amazon supports the largest number of Indigenous people living in traditional ways, although these people, too, have been impacted by the modern world. Nonetheless, Indigenous peoples' knowledge of medicinal plants remains unmatched and they have a great understanding of the ecology of the Amazon rainforest.

In Africa there are native forest dwellers sometimes known as pygmies. The tallest of these people, also called the Mbuti, rarely exceed 5 feet in height. Their small size enables them to move about the forest more efficiently than taller people.

There are few forest peoples in Asia living in fully traditional ways. The last nomadic people in Borneo are thought to have settled in the late 2000's. New Guinea and the Andaman Islands are generally viewed as the last frontiers for forest people in Asia and the Pacific.

Chapter 8:

Deforestation

Every year an area of rainforest the size of New Jersey is cut down and destroyed, mostly the result of human activities. We are cutting down rainforests for many reasons, including:

  • wood for both timber and making fires;
  • agriculture for both small and large farms;
  • land for poor farmers who don’t have anywhere else to live;
  • grazing land for cattle (the single biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon);
  • plantations, including wood-pulp for making paper, oil palm for making palm oil, and rubber;
  • road construction; and
  • extraction of minerals and energy.

In recent decades there has been an important shift in deforestation trends. Today export-driven industries are driving a bigger share of deforestation than ever before, marking a shift from previous decades, when most tropical deforestation was the product of poor farmers trying to put food on the table for their families. There are important implications from this change. While companies have a greater capacity to chop down forests than small farmers, they are more sensitive to pressure from environmentalists. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.

Rainforests are also threatened by climate change, which is contributing to droughts in parts of the Amazon and Southeast Asia. Drought causes die-offs of trees and dries out leaf litter, increasing the risk of forest fires, which are often set by land developers, ranchers, plantation owners, and loggers.

Tropical primary forest cover and tree cover by country in 2020
Chapter 9:

Rainforest importance

While rainforests may seem like a distant concern, they are critically important for our well-being. Rainforests are often called the lungs of the planet for their role in absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and producing oxygen, upon which all animals depend for survival. Rainforests also stabilize climate, house incredible amounts of plants and wildlife, and produce nourishing rainfall all around the planet.

Rainforests:

  • Help stabilize the world’s climate: Rainforests help stabilize the world’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scientists have shown that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities is contributing to climate change. Therefore, living rainforests have an important role in mitigating climate change, but when rainforests are chopped down and burned, the carbon stored in their wood and leaves is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
  • Provide a home to many plants and animals: Rainforests are home to a large number of the world’s plant and animals species, including many endangered species. As forests are cut down, many species are doomed to extinction.
  • Help maintain the water cycle: The role of rainforests in the water cycle is to add water to the atmosphere through the process of transpiration (in which plants release water from their leaves during photosynthesis). This moisture contributes to the formation of rain clouds, which release the water back onto the rainforest. In the Amazon, 50-80 percent of moisture remains in the ecosystem’s water cycle. When forests are cut down, less moisture goes into the atmosphere and rainfall declines, sometimes leading to drought. Rainforests also have a role in global weather patterns. For example researchers have shown that forests in South America affect rainfall in the United States, while forests in Southeast Asia influence rain patterns in southeastern Europe and China. Distant rainforests are therefore important to farmers everywhere.
  • Protect against flood, drought, and erosion: Rainforests have been compared to natural sponges, moderating flood and drought cycles by slowing run-off and contributing moisture to the local atmosphere. Rainforests are also important in reducing soil erosion by anchoring the ground with their roots. When trees are cut down there is no longer anything to protect the ground, and soils are quickly washed away with rain. On steep hillsides, loss of forest can trigger landslides.
  • Are a source for medicines and foods and support forest-dependent people: People have long used forests as a source of food, wood, medicine, and recreation. When forests are lost, they can no longer provide these resources. Instead people must find other places to get these goods and services. They also must find ways to pay for the things they once got for free from the forest.
Chapter 10:

Rainforest conservation

Rainforests are disappearing very quickly. The good news is there are a lot of people who want to save rainforests. The bad news is that saving rainforests will be a challenge as it means humanity will need to shift away from business-as-usual practices by developing new policies and economic measures to creative incentives for preserving forests as healthy and productive ecosystems.

Over the past decade there has been considerable progress on several conservation fronts. Policymakers and companies are increasingly valuing rainforests for the services they afford, setting aside large blocks of forests in protected areas and setting up new financial mechanisms that compensate communities, state and local governments, and countries for conserving forests. Meanwhile, forest-dependent people are gaining more management control over the forests they have long stewarded. Large international companies are finally establishing policies that exclude materials sourced via deforestation. People are abandoning rural areas, leading to forest recovery in some planes.

But the battle is far from over. Growing population and consumption means that rainforests will continue to face intense pressures. At the same time, climate change threatens to dramatically alter temperatures and precipitation patterns, potentially pushing some forests toward critical tipping points.

Thus the future of the world's rainforests in very much in our hands. The actions we take in the next 20 years will determine whether rainforests, as we currently know them, are around to sustain and nourish future generations of people and wildlife.

The Latest News on Rainforests

After gold miners shoot Yanomani people, Brazil cuts environmental regulation further (13 May 2021 22:50:14 +0000)
- With 300 votes in favor and 122 against, Brazil’s Lower House passed the draft of a bill on May 12 that withdraws environmental impact assessments and licensing for development projects, ranging from construction of roads to agriculture.
- The measure, which was submitted to the Senate for its appraisal, is backed by President Jair Bolsonaro and the powerful conservative agribusiness lobby — the ‘ruralistas’ — who champion it as a way of slashing red tape on environmental licensing, to facilitate “self-licensing” infrastructure projects.
- Congressmen, experts and activists opposed to it are convinced the new legal framework will inevitably fast-track approval of high-risk projects, leading to deforestation and the escalation of violence against traditional communities.
- As the Lower House moved to approve it, Yanomami people were under attack by illegal gold miners with automatic weapons for the third time this week in northern Roraima state. “They [illegal miners] are not shooting to try and scare us. They want us dead,” a Yanomami leader told Mongabay.

Is planting trees as good for the Earth as everyone says? (13 May 2021 15:38:39 +0000)
- As the world searches for solutions to global climate change, tree planting has become increasingly popular, with ambitious campaigns aiming to plant billions or trillions of trees.
- These projects often have other environmental goals, too, like regulating water cycles, halting soil erosion and restoring wildlife habitat. They also often have socioeconomic goals, like alleviating poverty.
- But how effective is planting trees at accomplishing all this, and how strong is the evidence for this effectiveness? To find out, Mongabay engaged a team of researchers who conducted a non-exhaustive review of relevant scientific literature.
- We detail the results below, as part of Mongabay’s special “Conservation Effectiveness” series.

On an island scarred by tin mining, mangrove planting preserves shrimp tradition (13 May 2021 14:59:56 +0000)
- Mining, aquaculture, plantations and other commercial activities have taken a toll on mangroves in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest extent of these important ecosystems.
- On the Bangka-Belitung islands off Sumatra, residents of one village are doing their part to maintain the mangroves through replanting.
- For the Batu Betumpang villagers, the mangroves are the source of the shrimp they use to make their belacan shrimp paste, a key source of livelihood here.
- The villagers say there’s a growing awareness of the importance of mangroves, without which “our income will definitely decline because shrimp will run out.”

‘Bad science’: Planting frenzy misses the grasslands for the trees (12 May 2021 00:08:34 +0000)
- Planting trees by the millions has come to be considered one of the main ways of reining in runaway carbon emissions and tackling climate change.
- But experts say many tree-planting campaigns are based on flawed science: planting in grasslands and other non-forest areas, and prioritizing invasive trees over native ones.
- Experts point out that not all land is meant to be forested, and that planting trees in savannas and grasslands runs the risk of actually reducing carbon sequestration and increasing air temperature.
- The rush to reforest has also led to fast-growing eucalyptus and acacia becoming the choice of tree for planting, despite the fact they’re not native in most planting areas, and are both water-intensive and fire-prone.

Indigenous in Salvador: A struggle for identity in Brazil’s first capital (11 May 2021 15:51:17 +0000)
- The city of Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state was one of the first established by European colonizers 500 years ago, built where settlements of Indigenous people already existed.
- Today, the predominantly Afro-Brazilian city is home to an Indigenous minority of around 7,500, many of whom are enrolled in the local university under the Indigenous quota system.
- They say they continue to face prejudice from others, who question why they wear modern clothes and use smartphones and don’t look like the pictures in history books.
- Over centuries of suffering from colonization and enslavement, Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities here have forged something of a cultural alliance in an effort to keep their respective traditions alive.

Trafficking of banned Myanmar teak lands German company with $4m fine (10 May 2021 17:18:02 +0000)
- German firm WOB Timber was ordered by a Hamburg court to pay $4 million in fines for illegally trading Myanmar teak.
- Although there is a regulation that prohibits imports of Myanmar wood into the EU, companies take advantage of legal loopholes to evade it, says the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
- According to the EIA, demand for Myanmar teakwood contributed to the Southeast Asian country losing a Belgium-size area of forest between 2001 and 2018

Indonesian omnibus law’s ‘whitewash’ of illegal palm oil shocks its architects (10 May 2021 10:22:52 +0000)
- Indonesian lawmakers appear outraged at a scheme from a law they already passed that grants amnesty to oil palm plantations operating illegally inside forest areas.
- The amnesty scheme gives the operators a grace period of three years to apply for the proper paperwork, including a redesignation of the forest they’re illegally occupying to a non-forest designation.
- The lawmakers, who overwhelmingly approved the law last November despite near-universal criticism, have called the scheme “whitewashing” and “eco-terrorism.”
- One even expressed his own regret at not being a “forest thief” had he only known how lucrative it would be.

Amazon deforestation jumps sharply in April (08 May 2021 23:49:00 +0000)
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged during the month of April, ending a streak of three consecutive months where forest clearing had been lower than the prior year.
- The rise in deforestation came despite a high-profile pledge from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to rein in deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest.
- According to preliminary deforestation alert data released Friday by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE, deforestation in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon amounted to 581 square kilometers in April, a 43% increase over April 2020
- However, by INPE’s count, deforestation is still pacing behind last year’s rate, though that conclusion is contradicted by Imazon, a group that independently monitors forest clearing in the region.

Death toll rises to 10 after landslide at dam site in orangutan habitat (07 May 2021 14:51:24 +0000)
- The death toll from a landslide at a hydropower construction site in northern Sumatra has risen to 10, with three people still missing and feared dead.
- The disaster was the second landslide to hit the site in the Batang Toru forest in the space of five months.
- Experts and activists have again questioned the project developer’s disaster mitigation plan, warning that the area could also be hit by an earthquake, with even more devastating consequences.
- Conservationists also say the project threatens the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan, which numbers fewer than 800 individuals.

Belgium-sized swath of forest faces the chop from Indonesian palm oil (07 May 2021 11:09:22 +0000)
- Curbing deforestation associated with the palm oil industry is crucial if Indonesia wants to meet its long-term emissions reduction targets, experts say.
- There are still 3.5 million hectares (8.65 million acres) of natural forest inside existing oil palm concessions that could potentially be cleared in as little as three years as demand for palm oil continues to grow.
- Experts have called on the government to save these forests by extending and strengthening a moratorium on licensing new plantations.
- They also call for the adoption of the high conservation value and high carbon stock approaches to identifying areas to protect.

Karipuna people sue Brazil government for alleged complicity in land grabs (06 May 2021 16:14:56 +0000)
- Leaders of the Karipuna Indigenous group in Brazil are suing the government for what they say is complicity in the continued invasion and theft of their land.
- Findings by Greenpeace and the Catholic Church-affiliated Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) show 31 land claims overlapping onto the Karipuna Indigenous Reserve, while 7% of the area has already been deforested or destroyed.
- The Karipuna Indigenous, who rebuilt their population to around 60 in the last few decades from just eight members who survived mass deaths by disease that followed their forced contact with the outside world in the 1970s, are seeking damages of $8.2 million, the right to permanent protection, and the cancellation of all outsider land claims to their territory.
- Land grabbing has been fueled by the political rhetoric and action of President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies, who are seeking to drastically reduce protected areas in the Amazon and weaken environmental protections, activists and experts say.

Indonesian law enforcers call for financial approach to fight illegal logging (06 May 2021 15:46:30 +0000)
- Law enforcement officials in Indonesia have called for using anti-money-laundering statutes to go after illegal loggers.
- Illegal logging is the most common environmental crime currently handled by the country’s forestry ministry, but enforcement tends to focus on the perpetrators on the ground.
- By treating illegal timber as a commodity, say officials from the Attorney General’s Office and the anti-money-laundering agency, enforcers can take a financial crimes approach that also goes after those perpetrators higher up the trafficking chain.
- They also identified addressing corruption as a key step in tackling illegal logging, noting that perpetrators are known to bribe officials.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro vowed to work with Indigenous people. Now he’s investigating them (04 May 2021 15:55:07 +0000)
- At least two top Indigenous leaders in Brazil, Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suruí, were recently summoned for questioning by the federal police over allegations of slander against the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.
- Both probes were prompted by complaints filed by Funai, the federal agency for Indigenous affairs, just a week after Bolsonaro pledged at a global leaders’ climate summit to work together with Indigenous peoples to tackle deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The NGO Human Rights Watch said it’s “deeply concerned” about the government’s moves and called any retaliation against Indigenous peoples a “flagrant abuse of power,” while APIB, Brazil’s main Indigenous association, called the government’s approach a “clear attempt to curtail freedom of expression.”
- Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in Brazil has reached its highest level since 2008, invasions of indigenous territories increased 135% in 2019, and the persecution of government critics under a draconian national security law has skyrocketed.

Casinos, condos and sugar cane: How a Cambodian national park is being sold down the river (04 May 2021 00:32:40 +0000)
- Botum Sakor National Park in southern Cambodia has lost at least 30,000 hectares of forest over the past three decades.
- Decades of environmental degradation go back to the late 1990s when the Cambodian government began handing out economic land concessions for the development of commercial plantations and tourist infrastructure.
- NGOs in Cambodia are said to be unwilling to speak out against the destruction of Botum Sakor because they are afraid they will not be allowed to operate in the country if they do.
- The government says economic activity is vital to improve people’s livelihoods and reduce poverty.

‘Zero illegal deforestation’ – One more Bolsonaro distortion (commentary) (03 May 2021 21:49:58 +0000)
- At U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit on Earth Day, 22 April, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro promised “zero illegal deforestation by 2030.”
- “Zero illegal deforestation” can be achieved in two ways: by stopping deforestation, and by legalizing the deforestation that is taking place. The second path is in full swing.
- A series of laws facilitating “land grabbing” (which in Brazil means large-scale illegal appropriation of government land) is being fast-tracked in the National Congress with support from Bolsonaro.
- Once grabbed land is legalized, the deforestation on it can be “amnestied” and subsequent deforestation legally permitted. The end result is more deforestation. All deforestation, legal or not, causes climate change. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.