Deforestation: facts, figures, and pictures

By Rhett A. Butler  Last updated July 23, 2020



Deforestation facts

Here are some basic facts about deforestation. These facts are explored in greater depth below.

  • Forests are cut down to clear land for agriculture, livestock grazing, and settlement; for timber; to produce charcoal; and to establish tree plantations.
  • Deforestation occurs across all forest types, but is concentrated in the tropics and boreal regions. Temperate regions are experiencing a net increase in forest cover due to natural regeneration.
  • While deforestation produces food, fiber, and fuel, it can also pose risks to climate, biodiversity, and food security by degrading the ecosystem services normally afforded by healthy and productive forests.
  • There are different ways to calculate deforestation. Using the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimate, the countries with the highest area of deforestation during the 2010s were Brazil (18.9 million ha of net forest conversion), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11M ha), Indonesia (8M ha), Angola (5.6M ha), and Canada (4.5M ha).
  • Scientists estimate that 80% of the planet's terrestrial species live in forests. Deforestation is therefore one of the biggest extinction risks to many species.
Illegal deforestation for palm oil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Definition of deforestation

What is deforestation? Deforestation refers to the cutting, clearing, and removal of natural forest.

Deforestation includes the conversion of natural forests into tree plantations, like the clearance of tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia for oil palm and timber plantations.

Governments often exclude areas burned by fires from official deforestation statistics. However forests that are chopped down and then burned are usually counted as "deforestation."

Deforestation is defined in different ways by different institutions. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines deforestation as "the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 percent threshold." Depletion of forest to tree crown cover greater than 10 percent (say from 90 percent to 15 percent) is considered "forest degradation". Logging most often falls under the category of forest degradation and thus is not included in FAO deforestation statistics. For this reason, forest degradation rates are considerably higher than deforestation rates.

Regional deforestation trends for the tropics

Chaco forest recently destroyed for soybeans. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Causes of deforestation

What causes deforestation?

The causes of deforestation — sometimes called drivers of deforestation — vary from region to region. In tropical Latin America and Southeast Asia, most deforestation is directly caused by conversion of natural forests for industrial activities, notably cattle ranching in the Amazon and large-scale tree plantations in Southeast Asia. These industrial activities typically produce commodities for export and urban markets.

In other regions, especially parts of tropical Africa, deforestation is caused primarily by subsistence or small-scale agriculture. Subsistence agriculture is primarily to produce food for household consumption or local markets.


Pie chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to Curtis et al 2018

Chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to Curtis et al 2018

Chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to WRI 2019

 

Outside the tropics, drivers of deforestation are also varied. In countries like the United States, Canada, and Russia industrial timber operations convert natural temperate and boreal forests into industrial tree plantations. Urban expansion and agriculture can also be important causes of deforestation.

Mining also causes deforestation, but typically on a much smaller scale than agriculture. Mining however can result in other adverse environmental impacts like water and air pollution.

Types of deforestation

The "causes of deforestation" section above focuses on direct drivers of deforestation, but indirect drivers are also important to consider. For example, logging is a major indirect driver of deforestation in the tropics. Logging in tropical rainforests is typically selective, meaning only a few trees are harvested per hectare. But successive logging cycles degrade the perceived economic value of the forest, increasing pressure to convert the forest for intensive use, like agricultural or an industrial plantation (e.g. oil palm, wood pulp, or timber are the most common tropical tree plantations). Logging also usually involves road construction, which facilitates access to remote areas, greatly boosting the likelihood that an area of forest will eventually be cleared or burned.

Drivers of deforestation can be even farther removed however. For example, corruption, governance, and land rights can all be important factors in whether a forest gets destroyed. Corruption can enable companies to circumvent environmental regulations, while poor governance can allow illegal actors to clear forests with impunity since there isn't any law enforcement. Insecure land rights can spur a free-for-all where forests get cleared because no one has clear stake to maintain them for the public good. Research has shown that forests are more likely to be maintained in indigenous communities that have secure land titles.

 



Regional deforestation trends

Deforestation in the Amazon has been trending higher over the past decade due to growing demand for beef, soy, and land; government development policies that encourage expansion into forests; and the increasing vulnerability of the rainforest ecosystem to drought and fire. Brazil, which accounts for more than 60% of forest cover in the Amazon, is the bellwether in the region.

The deforestation trend in the world's second largest rainforest, the Congo, is also up due to rising conversion for agriculture and increased logging.

After peaking in the mid-2010s, deforestation has been trending downward in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, the region still loses vast amounts of forest to industrial agriculture for the production of palm oil, timber, and pulp and paper.

In North America and Russia, industrial timber harvesting is a large driver of deforestation in natural forests. Every few years vast areas of forest, especially in boreal regions, burn due to fires. Many of these result from lightning strikes, while some result from human activities. While there is a natural fire cycle in northern forests, the effects of climate change — including higher temperatures, more severe droughts, and beetle infestations resulting from warmer winters — are making these ecosystems more vulnerable to unusually destructive fires.


Chart showing the state of primary forests in the tropics, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Amazon, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Atlantic Forest, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Australiasia (Australia, New Guinea, and neighboring islands), according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Choco, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Congo, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Indo-Burma region, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Mesoamerica, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Sundaland (Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo), according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Wallacea (Sulawesi and Halmahera), according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in West Africa, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Effects of deforestation

Forests provide many critical ecosystem services and house wildlife and people. Deforestation therefore undermines these services and deprives forest-dependent peoples of livelihoods and cultural connections to nature.

Forests:

  • help stabilize the world’s climate by sequestering carbon and affecting the reflectivity of Earth's surface;
  • provide a home to the majority of the planet's plant and animal species;
  • maintain the water cycle, including generating rainfall at local, regional, and trans-continental scales;
  • help buffer again storm damage, erosion, and drought / flood cycles;
  • are a source for food, fiber, fuel, and medicine;
  • support forest-dependent people, including indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation from the rest of humanity; and
  • provide recreational, spiritual, and cultural value.

Forest loss therefore:

  • accelerates global warming by releasing substantial amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere;
  • increases biodiversity loss, including causing the extinction of plants and animals;
  • disrupts rainfall patterns, including increasing the incidence of drought in some areas;
  • exacerbates the risk of floods and storm damage;
  • presents a food security risk to forest-dependent populations;
  • undermines local livelihoods, potentially pushing forest people off their traditional lands; and
  • can break cultural and spiritual links between people and forests, including loss of traditional knowledge about the value of forests.

Read more Consequences of deforestation.

Deforestation and climate change

Scientists expect climate change to have wide-ranging effects for the world's forests. Changes in weather patterns, rainfall distribution, and temperature will result in the transformation of some tropical rainforests into drier forests and the shift of other types of forests into tropical forest. Forests may recede in some areas (e.g. the southern Amazon, Borneo, and the Congo Basin) and expand in others (e.g. boreal and polar regions, Africa's Sahel).

Sea level rise will inundate and kill coastal lowland forests, including mangroves. Montane forests may climb to higher elevations as temperatures rise.

The response of forests to climate change challenged by deforestation, forest degradation, and human infrastructure. Whereas in the past forest ecological communities could respond to climate change by moving, today migration corridors across much of the world are effectively blocked. Additionally the pace of current change is much greater than with past periods of warming, like the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs

Read more Climate Change and the Amazon Rainforest.

Bulldozer at a conventional logging site in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Deforestation solutions

Drivers of deforestation are complex and vary from region to region depending on social, economic, political, and geographic issues. This means that solutions to deforestation are also variable — in short, there's no simple, one-stop solution to deforestation that applies worldwide. However there are some common themes that underpin efforts to combat deforestation. These include:

  • Improve governance to curb illegal conversion and degradation of forests and reduce mismanagement of resources
  • Use full-cost accounting to incorporate the real costs of externalities and perverse subsidies that drive environmental degradation, while aligning economic incentives with forest-friendly practices and policies.
  • Strengthen transparency around land use and commodity sources to improve accountability.
  • Engage stakeholders in and around forest areas to determine how conservation efforts can support local livelihoods and help make land use more sustainable.
  • Recognize the land rights of forest-dependent peoples to ensure the forests they traditionally use aren't taken away from them.
  • Educate the public on the importance of forest ecosystems, including the services they afford.
  • Take personal responsibility in how you use resources. The decisions we as consumers make have a direct impact on the fate of forests. As such, you have a powerful voice in asking companies what actions they are taking to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.
  • Support environmental defenders who are putting their lives and well-being on the line to protect forests.
  • Communicate your concerns about forests to policymakers, companies, and your friends and family.
  • Vote for representatives who support thoughtful, forest-friendly policies.

Read more How to Save the Rainforest.

Deforestation statistics

The global deforestation rates depends on how one defines deforestation. The most frequently updated data on global tree cover is based on analysis of satellite data by the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch (UMD/GFW). This data is released annually, typically several months after the end of the year. However, the UMD/GFW data reflects global tree cover loss, which may or may not represent actual deforestation because it includes any activity that affects tree cover, including forest loss due to fire, cyclical harvesting of trees within plantations, and large-scale forest damage from storms. UMD/GFW publishes another proxy for deforestation -- tropical primary forest loss -- but this doesn't apply to any secondary forest loss or forest loss outside the tropics.

Global tree cover loss rose from an average of 17.1 million hectares a year in the 2000s to 23.1 million in the 2010s. This increase reflects both deforestation in natural forests and activity within an expanding area of plantations, the bulk of which are in Asia, Europe, and North America.

But while global tree cover loss is increasing as is primary forest loss in the tropics, FAO says that worldwide deforestation has been on a downward trend since the 1990s.

Global deforestation trends


Chart showing annual tree cover loss by region.

Chart showing annual tree cover loss in the tropics and outside the tropics.

Chart showing total tree cover loss, 2001-2019.

Average annual global deforestation according to FAO 2020 (million ha)

Average annual global deforestation, forest gain, and net forest loss according to FAO 2020 (million ha)

Deforestation rankings for the 2010s

Deforestation numbers depend on the methodology. Below are three different sets of data: net forest conversion from the FAO, tree cover loss from Hansen / WRI 2020, and tropical primary forest loss from Hansen / WRI 2020.

Average hectares lost/yearNet forest conversion (FAO)
Source: FAO 2020
Tree cover loss
Source: Hansen / WRI 2020
Tropical primary forest loss
Source: Hansen / WRI 2020
Russia 139,406 4,164,738
Brazil 1,885,640 2,993,616 1,314,788
Canada 454,175 2,395,826
United State 145,700 2,033,577
Indonesia 800,790 1,598,176 585,230
D.R. Congo 1,101,376 1,050,115 366,635
Tanzania 420,501 158,463
Bolivia 226,472 374,628 183,894
Paraguay 357,281 360,644 53,271
Angola 555,062 199,453 9,109
Mozambique 224,801 204,690
Sweden 152,400 262,467
Myanmar 301,896 269,628 38,307
Cambodia 297,030 166,746 90,319
Peru 183,798 210,153 137,352
Colombia 171,198 243,306 96,090
Argentina 189,000 297,398 21,088
Zambia 188,197 122,413
Mexico 128,510 228,326 39,587
Venezuela 164,303 113,585 33,249

 

Deforestation pictures

Below are photos of deforestation taken from around the world. There are tens of thousands of more photos of deforestation at travel.mongabay.com. There's a search function at images.mongabay.com


Chevron's Duri oil field in Riau

Deforestation for oil palm

Newly planted oil palm plantation

Smoke rising from a forest fire in Riau

Soy and Chaco forest

Deforestation in Riau

Smallholder deforestation

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Illegal clearing and burning inside Tesso Nilo

Peatlands destruction in Riau

Cleared peatland with rainforest in the background

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Illegal sand and gold mining

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Deforestation for oil palm

Drained, cleared, and burned peatland and forest

Batu Hijau mine

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Industrial logging in Malaysian Borneo

Illegal sand and gold mining

Oil palm estate and rainforest in Malaysian Borneo

Deforestation for oil palm

Deforestation for oil palm

Chaco forest recently destroyed for soybeans

Illegal deforestation for palm oil

Burning within Tesso Nilo National Park

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Haze rising from an oil palm plantation and forest in Riau

Stacks of rainforest timber in Indonesia

Logging truck in Borneo

Deforestation in Riau

Deforestation in Sumatra

Industrial deforestation in Borneo

Brush fire in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Burned peat forest

New oil palm plantation established on peatland outside Palangkaraya

deforestation for oil palm

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Bulldozer at a conventional logging site in Borneo

Canal dug through degraded peat forest

Acacia plantation

Overhead view of the Rio Huaypetue gold mine the Peruvian Amazon

Rainforest timber transported in lagoon near Loango National Park in Gabon

deforestation for oil palm

Ramin trees in a deforested landscape

Sunset over a deforested area

Drained, cleared, and burned peatland and forest

Peat forest cleared for palm oil

Big picture context on deforestation

How much rainforest is being destroyed? by Rhett A. Butler on 10 June 2020

  • In December 2019, Mongabay published a review of decade in tropical forests. The analysis wasn’t fully complete because forest loss data for 2019 hadn’t yet been released.
  • Last week, the University of Maryland (UMD) and World Resources Institute (WRI) published the 2019 data, which showed that 3.75 million hectares of primary forest were cleared during the year.
  • That brings the total tropical primary forest loss since 2002 to 60 million hectares, an area larger than the combined land mass of the states of California and Missouri.
  • However the 2019 numbers may not capture the full extent of loss due to the extent of deforestation that occurred in the Amazon during the later part of the year.
Tropical forests’ lost decade: the 2010s by Rhett A. Butler on 17 December 2019
  • The 2010s opened as a moment of optimism for tropical forests. The world looked like it was on track to significantly reduce tropical deforestation by 2020.
  • By the end of the 2019 however, it was clear that progress on protecting tropical forests stalled in the 2010s. The decade closed with rising deforestation and increased incidence of fire in tropical forests.
  • According to the U.N., in 2015 global forest cover fell below four billion hectares of forest for the first time in human history.
Earth has more trees now than 35 years ago by Rhett A. Butler on 15 August 2018
  • Tree cover increased globally over the past 35 years, finds a paper published in the journal Nature.
  • The study, led by Xiao-Peng Song and Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland, is based on analysis of satellite data from 1982 to 2016.
  • The research found that tree cover loss on the tropics was outweighed by tree cover gain in subtropical, temperate, boreal, and polar regions.
  • However all the tree cover data comes with an important caveat: tree cover is not necessarily forest cover.
10 reasons to be optimistic for forests by Rhett A. Butler on 5 June 2016
  • It’s easy to be pessimistic about the state of the world’s forests.
  • Yet all hope is not lost. There are remain good reasons for optimism when it comes to saving the world’s forests.
  • On the occasion of World Environment Day 2016 (June 5), the United Nations’ “day” for raising awareness and encouraging action to protect the planet, here are 10 forest-friendly trends to watch.
How does the global commodity collapse impact forest conservation? by Rhett A. Butler on 21 December 2015
  • Since early 2014, prices for most commodities produced in the tropics have plunged.
  • The market rout is wreaking havoc on the state budgets of developing countries, curbing investment, and pushing producers to scale back on output and postpone plans for expansion.
  • In isolation, these developments would seem to be good news for tropical forests. But the reality is more complex.
Rainforests could provide half global climate solution by 2050 by Rhett A. Butler on 25 November 2015
  • Protecting, restoring, and better managing tropical forests could provide as much as half the net carbon emissions required to meet a 2-degree Celsius climate target.
  • The authors cite three opportunities where tropical forests could make substantial contributions: reducing deforestation and degradation, allowing forests degraded by logging and shifting agriculture to recover, and reforesting areas that have been cleared.
  • All told, those efforts could sequester and avoid emissions of up to five billion tons per year, or just under half the current level of emissions from fossil fuels, for about 50 years. About 20 percent of that would come via reducing emissions by cutting the amount of trees that are felled and burned, while 80 percent would come from sequestration.
How many trees are cut down every year? by Rhett A. Butler on 2 September 2015
  • A new study published in Nature estimates the planet has 3.04 trillion trees.
  • The research says 15.3 billion trees are chopped down every year.
  • It also estimates that 46% of the world’s trees have been cleared over the past 12,000 years.
Industrial logging leaves a poor legacy in Borneo’s rainforests by Rhett A. Butler on 17 July 2012
  • For most people “Borneo” conjures up an image of a wild and distant land of rainforests, exotic beasts, and nomadic tribes. But that place increasingly exists only in one’s imagination, for the forests of world’s third largest island have been rapidly and relentlessly logged, burned, and bulldozed in recent decades, leaving only a sliver of its once magnificent forests intact.
Is Indonesia losing its most valuable assets? Commentary by Rhett A. Butler on 16 May 2011
  • Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: the bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity.
  • An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people.
  • This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact, Indonesia’s forests probably contain many other potentially valuable species, although our understanding of these is poor.
  • Given Indonesia’s biological richness — Indonesia has the highest number of plant and animal species of any country on the planet — shouldn’t policymakers and businesses be giving priority to protecting and understanding rainforests, peatlands, mountains, coral reefs, and mangrove ecosystems, rather than destroying them for commodities?
Does chopping down rainforests for pulp and paper help alleviate poverty in Indonesia? by Rhett A. Butler on 13 January 2011
  • Over the past several years, Asia Pulp & Paper has engaged in a marketing campaign to represent its operations in Sumatra as socially and environmentally sustainable. APP and its agents maintain that industrial pulp and paper production — as practiced in Sumatra — does not result in deforestation, is carbon neutral, helps protect wildlife, and alleviates poverty. While a series of analyses and reports have shown most of these assertions to be false, the final claim has largely not been contested. But does conversion of lowland rainforests for pulp and paper really alleviate poverty in Indonesia?.
Greening the world with palm oil? by Rhett A. Butler on 26 January 2011
  • The commercial shows a typical office setting. A worker sits drearily at a desk, shredding papers and watching minutes tick by on the clock. When his break comes, he takes out a Nestle KitKat bar. As he tears into the package, the viewer, but not the office worker, notices something is amiss—what should be chocolate has been replaced by the dark hairy finger of an orangutan. With the jarring crunch of teeth breaking through bone, the worker bites into the “bar.” Drops of blood fall on the keyboard and run down his face. His officemates stare, horrified. The advertisement cuts to a solitary tree standing amid a deforested landscape. A chainsaw whines. The message: Palm oil—an ingredient in many Nestle products—is killing orangutans by destroying their habitat, the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.
Corporations, conservation, and the green movement by Rhett A. Butler on 21 October 2010
  • The rise of industrial deforestation and its implications for conservation.
  • The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation.
  • Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom.
  • Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.
How Greenpeace changes big business by Rhett A. Butler on 22 July 2010
  • Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s.
  • But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs.
  • These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests in that environmental groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers. In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation.
Changing drivers of deforestation provide new opportunities for conservation by Rhett A. Butler on 9 December 2009
  • Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s.
  • But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs.
  • These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests in that environmental lobby groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers.
  • In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation.
Concerns over deforestation may drive new approach to cattle ranching in the Amazon by Rhett A. Butler on 8 September 2009
  • While you’re browsing the mall for running shoes, the Amazon rainforest is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.
  • The globalization of commodity supply chains has created links between consumer products and distant ecosystems like the Amazon. Shoes sold in downtown Manhattan may have been assembled in Vietnam using leather supplied from a Brazilian processor that subcontracted to a rancher in the Amazon. But while demand for these products is currently driving environmental degradation, this connection may also hold the key to slowing the destruction of Earth’s largest rainforest.
Are we on the brink of saving rainforests? by Rhett A. Butler on 22 July 2009
  • Until now saving rainforests seemed like an impossible mission. But the world is now warming to the idea that a proposed solution to help address climate change could offer a new way to unlock the value of forest without cutting it down.
How to save the Amazon rainforest by Rhett A. Butler on 4 January 2009
  • Environmentalists have long voiced concern over the vanishing Amazon rainforest, but they haven’t been particularly effective at slowing forest loss. In fact, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds that have flowed into the region since 2000 and the establishment of more than 100 million hectares of protected areas since 2002, average annual deforestation rates have increased since the 1990s, peaking at 73,785 square kilometers (28,488 square miles) of forest loss between 2002 and 2004. With land prices fast appreciating, cattle ranching and industrial soy farms expanding, and billions of dollars’ worth of new infrastructure projects in the works, development pressure on the Amazon is expected to accelerate.

Recent deforestation articles

We’re killing those tropical trees we’re counting on to absorb carbon dioxide
- A pair of recent studies show that rising temperatures are shortening the lives of trees in tropical forests and reducing their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- This phenomenon is already being observed in parts of the Amazon, where the temperature has already crossed a critical threshold of 25°C (77°F); by 2050, the same may happen in the Congo Basin, the world’s second-biggest tropical rainforest.
- Forests play a major role in fighting global warming, but the authors of the recent studies say we shouldn’t be overly reliant on them as a solution, given their diminished capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.
- Instead, they say that cutting emissions is more urgent than ever.

As Amazon forest-to-savanna tipping point looms, solutions remain elusive
- Leading scientists project that if an additional 3-8% of rainforest cover is lost in the Amazon, it may overshoot a forest-to-degraded-savanna tipping point. That shift could mean mega-drought, forest death, and release of great amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere from southern, eastern and central Amazonia.
- Despite this warning, Brazilian Amazon deforestation hit an 11-year high in 2020. Government clampdowns on environmental crime greatly decreased deforestation in the past, but Brazil is now facing a political backlash led by President Jair Bolsonaro, resulting in agribusiness and mining expansion and deforestation.
- Market efforts to create incentives have been ineffective. A public-private plan to cut deforestation led by Mato Grosso state has not met its environmental targets, even as agricultural lands increased. Amazonas, Acre and Rondônia — Bolsonaro-aligned states — are pushing for the creation of a new agriculture frontier.
- Indigenous communities, because they’re the best land stewards, should be at the forefront of public policy to conserve the Amazon, say experts, but instead they face poverty and marginalization by the institutions responsible for securing their land rights. International response to the Amazon crisis has also lagged.

New platform gathers data on Brazil’s disappearing Cerrado biome
- An online and collaborative tool created by Brazil’s Federal University of Goiás brings together the largest and oldest collection of available data available on the Cerrado biome.
- The Cerrado Knowledge Platform will be constantly updated as a national reference on the biome, consolidating information to be used by researchers working for its preservation and management.
- The bilingual platform includes figures on deforestation, land use, biodiversity and socioeconomics; users can also contribute by uploading data, maps and geospatial information.
- Its creators say they hope the website will provide solid knowledge to support researchers in making public policies or designing programs for the conservation of a biome that has already lost more than 50% of its native vegetation.

Madagascar: Young farmers adopt new methods to help lemurs, forests and themselves
- Threatened by unsustainable farming methods and hunting, the forests of Mangabe-Ranomena-Sahasarotra in eastern Madagascar, and the lemurs that live there, are in danger.
- A project aims to train young villagers in the region in sustainable farming techniques and to raise their awareness of lemur protection.
- These young people are trained to be ambassadors for the protection of the environment, who will transmit their knowledge to the next generation.

U.N. report lays out blueprint to end ‘suicidal war on nature’
- According to a new report from the United Nations Environmental Programme, the world faces three environmental “emergencies”: climate change, biodiversity loss, and air and water pollution.
- U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said we should view nature as “an ally,” not a foe, in the quest for sustainable human development.
- The report draws on assessments that quantify carbon emissions, species loss and pollutant flows to produce what the authors call concrete actions by governments, private companies and individuals that will help address these issues.

In Malaysian Borneo’s rainforests, powerful state governments set their own rules
- Under Malaysia’s federal system, state governments hold authority over most regulations regarding land usage and environmental protection.
- In the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak, home to most of Malaysia’s remaining intact forests, politicians push against perceived interference from the central government, particularly when it comes to resource management.
- Since the late 1960s, Malaysian Borneo lost much of its forest: first to timber and later to palm oil and other agricultural industries.
- Both states have laws on the books aimed at protecting and managing forests, as well as sustainable forestry and palm oil certification schemes. Experts on forest management and conservation see cause for both optimism and skepticism.

Indonesian police may probe coal miners over deforestation-linked floods
- The Indonesian police say they might investigate coal companies for their alleged role in recent deadly floods that struck southern Borneo.
- Critics accuse the companies of degrading the water catchment in South Kalimantan province through deforestation and sedimentation, which they allege amplified the impact of the rain-fueled floods.
- The government, meanwhile, is under fire for issuing more permits than the previous three administrations.
- Activists warn the environmental degradation in the province will only get worse under a slate of controversial deregulation measures passed by the government last year, which they say caters to coal companies at the expense of the environment.

Indigenous community wins recognition of its land rights in Panama
- A ruling by Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice in November 2020 led to the official creation of a comarca, or protected Indigenous territory, for the Naso Tjër Di people in northern Panama.
- The 1,600-square-kilometer (620-square-mile) comarca is the result of a decades-long effort to secure the Naso’s land rights.
- Panama’s former president had vetoed legislation creating the comarca in 2018, which he said was unconstitutional because it overlapped with two established protected areas.
- Other Indigenous groups in Panama with longstanding comarcas still struggle to hold back outside incursions for projects such as dams and power transmission lines.

Cat corridors between protected areas is key to survival of Cerrado’s jaguars
- Only 4% of the jaguar’s critical habitat is effectively protected across the Americas, and in Brazil’s Cerrado biome it’s just 2%.
- A survey in Emas National Park in the Cerrado biome concludes that the protected area isn’t large enough to sustain a viable jaguar population, and that jaguars moving in and out could be exposed to substantial extinction risk in the future.
- The study suggests that improving net immigration may be more important than increasing population sizes in small isolated populations, including by creating dispersal corridors.
- To ensure the corridors’ effectiveness, conservation efforts should focus on resolving the conflict between the jaguars and human communities.

As forests shrink, mammals are stressed out— with possible fallout for humans
- Fur samples collected from small rodents and marsupials in the Atlantic Forest of Paraguay showed that the animals in the smaller forest fragments had elevated levels of stress hormones.
- While small amounts of acute stress can help an animal to get out of a bad situation, prolonged stress levels weaken the immune system, making them more susceptible to disease.
- Pathogen spillover (from animals to humans) seems more likely in all animals that are crowded together in forest fragments and stressed out, underscoring the importance of the One Health approach, which recognizes the connection between human, environment, and animal health.

Nearly one-third of all oak species threatened with extinction, report says
- Nearly one-third of all oak species (31%) are considered threatened with extinction, according to a new report.
- Of all 430 species of oaks, the highest number of species under threat are found in China, Mexico, Vietnam, and the United States, respectively.
- Globally, agriculture poses the biggest threat to oaks. Urban development, climate change, invasive species, plant diseases, and human disturbance have also strained oaks globally. And in Latin America, which has the highest number of endemic oak species, the use of oak for charcoal is a threat.
- Many of the threats to oaks must be tackled with “transformative systemic change,” but individual actions such as monitoring the oaks in your area, donating to local conservation NGOs, spreading awareness, and switching to more efficient fuels and stoves that do not rely on charcoal could relieve some of the pressures on threatened species.

Southeast Asian wild pigs confront deadly African swine fever epidemic
- A recent study in the journal Conservation Letters warns that African swine fever, responsible for millions of pig deaths in mainland Asia since 2018, now endangers 11 wild pig species living in Southeast Asia.
- These pig species generally have low populations naturally, and their numbers have dwindled further due to hunting and loss of habitat.
- The authors of the study contend that losing these species could hurt local economies and food security.
- Southeast Asia’s wild pigs are also important ecosystem engineers that till the soil and encourage plant life, and they are prey for critically endangered predators such as the Sumatran tiger and the Javan leopard.

Indonesia’s top palm oil deforesters are the usual shady suspects: Report
- Repeat offenders dominate the 2020 list of top 10 palm oil companies responsible for palm oil-linked deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, according to a new analysis.
- Some of the top deforesters are shrouded in secrecy, with scant information about them publicly available.
- Overall, 2020 saw the lowest amount of palm oil-driven deforestation in three years, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- However, a resurgent domestic market in Indonesia, coupled with rallying palm oil prices, could fuel further deforestation in 2021.

Podcast: Are biomass and hydropower ‘false’ climate solutions?
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we look at two energy-related technologies that are being promoted as climate solutions, biomass and hydropower, which might have unintended consequences that hamper their ability to supply clean energy and thus might not be sustainable solutions at all.
- Our first guest is Justin Catanoso, a professor at Wake Forest University and long-time Mongabay correspondent. Catanoso tells us about the loopholes in renewable energy policies that have allowed the biomass industry to flourish under the guise of “carbon neutrality,” even though the burning of biomass for energy releases more carbon emissions than burning coal.
- We also speak with Ana Colovic Lesoska, a biologist by training who founded the Eko-Svest Center For Environmental Research in North Macedonia. Colovic Lesoska was instrumental in shutting down two large hydropower projects in her country’s Mavrovo National Park, but there are still more than 3,000 new hydropower projects proposed in the Balkans. She tells us why hydropower is being adopted by Balkan countries and whether or not hydropower can be a climate solution at any scale.

Where does the name of the crab-eating fox come from?
- Every Tuesday, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

As nature declines, so does human quality of life, study finds
- Researchers working with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reviewed more than 2,000 studies to determine how environmental decline is affecting human well-being.
- The study found “unambiguous declines” in quality of life related to half of the IPBES categories of nature’s contributions to humanity.
- Where the results were mixed, negative impacts were often felt more acutely by low-income people and poorer countries.

Indonesia to push for mine rehab, reforestation after deadly floods
- The Indonesian government plans to reforest watershed areas in the Bornean province of South Kalimantan and compel coal-mining companies to rehabilitate their concessions there in response to recent deadly floods.
- Pit mines have degraded large swaths of the region’s watershed, undermining the ability of the land and rivers to absorb heavy rainwater runoff, which activists say exacerbated the scale of the floods.
- While the environment minister initially denied this, her office has now indicated it was aware of the problem at least five years earlier and will do more to get companies to rehabilitate their abandoned mining sites.
- Even if it succeeds, however, experts agree that, given the current state of technology, restoring forests from abandoned mining sites is unrealistic in any tangible time frame.

Myanmar’s troubled forestry sector seeks global endorsement after coup
- Two days after the military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1, the nationally privatized Myanmar Forest Products and Timber Merchants Association (MFPTMA) released a statement claiming its timber trade is fully in compliance with legal and official deforestation guidelines intended govern international exports.
- The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has publicly countered the letter, saying that Myanmar’s timber trade is highly corrupt and does not comply with international policies such as the EU’s Timber Regulation.
- Expert critics say the letter was motivated by money, and that any subsequent timber trade would directly benefit the ongoing military coup, which has been promised to last for at least a year.
- The EIA has called for placing economic sanctions on Myanmar, particularly in regard to the timber trade, until power is handed back to the democratically elected government.

Brazil timber imports ‘may have breached US flooring giant’s probation’
- A new report examines serious irregularities in Brazilian timber exporter Indusparquet’s supply chains, revealing the unusual clemency shown to the company since President Jair Bolsonaro came to power, and the American and European importers that have continued to buy from the firm in spite of its troubling sourcing practices.
- In May 2018, Indusparquet’s main warehouse was raided with 1,818 cubic meters of hardwood seized and the company fined $171,473 and issued a temporary ban on trading. The raid was the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Brazilian Environment Ministry’s anti-deforestation agency, Ibama, and the Federal Police.
- But at least one company, LL Flooring, may have violated the terms of its probation by continuing to import Indusparquet products following the seizures, Earthsight found.

Pandemic fails to slow agribusiness’s thirst for Cerrado’s water
- Between April and November last year, the government of the Brazilian state of Bahia authorized agribusinesses to collect nearly 2 billion liters (528 million gallons) of water a day.
- The spread of giant soybean plantations in the state’s west threatens tributaries, floodplains and sources of essential rivers such as the Corrente and the São Francisco.
- The large-scale irrigation poses a major threat to traditional communities, whose own communal farming practices have long protected the Cerrado’s water resources.
- Tensions over water management sparked a popular movement by small farmers in 2017, known as the “Water Uprising” and aimed at protecting the Cerrado’s water resources.