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

Mau Forest rehabilitation still overshadowed by forced evictions
- More than 50,000 people have been forcefully evicted from Kenya’s ecologically important Mau Forest in the past decade.
- With few options to relocate, evicted smallholders and others continue to enter the forest in search of grazing and fuel.
- The Kenya Water Tower Agency has built electrified fencing, but encroachers have torn sections of this down.
- Enlisting evictees to create tree nurseries and support for alternative livelihoods points the way to more constructive approaches.

Attack on environmental lawyer’s home alarms DRC rights defenders
- Armed men, including two dressed in police uniform, attacked the home of Congolese lawyer Timothée Mbuya earlier this month and told family members they were sent to kill him.
- Mbuya is also facing a defamation lawsuit after publishing a report alleging encroachment of a protected area by a farm owned by former DRC president Joseph Kabila.
- Campaigners say both the lawsuit and the violent assault on the lawyer’s home fit a pattern of harassment of environment and human rights activists in the country.

Young environmentalists ‘plant the future’ in Colombia’s Amazon
- Young people like Felipe “Pipe” Henao in Guaviare, Colombia, are using tree planting and social media to raise awareness and spread the message of protecting and valuing the environment.
- Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) recorded a nationwide deforestation rate of 171,685 hectares (424,242 acres) in 2020, with Guaviare department in the Amazon being one of the worst hit.
- Despite the damage being done, civil society efforts are already showing gains with efforts like Henao’s.
- His organization alone has connected with more than 150 companies and organizations in and around the town of Calamar and more than 1,800 families, and mobilized more than 1,000 young people to volunteer to clean rivers, protect wetlands and plant more than 60,000 trees.

Amazon to Alps: Swiss gold imports from Brazil tread a legal minefield
- The Brazilian Amazon is experiencing a new and potentially catastrophic gold rush driven by increased international demand for the precious metal.
- Over the past year, an estimated $1.2 billion worth of gold has been exported from Brazil to Switzerland, making it the second-largest export market for the country’s gold, after Canada. About a fifth of this gold comes from the Amazon, according to official figures.
- The scale of Brazil’s gold exports to Switzerland has raised concerns among environmental and transparency advocates that a significant quantity of illicit gold from the Amazon may be entering global supply chains.

Chemical defoliants sprayed on Amazon rainforest to facilitate deforestation in Brazil
- Chemicals created to kill agricultural pests are being sprayed by aircraft into native forest areas.
- Glyphosate and 2,4-D, among others, cause the trees to defoliate, and end up weakened or dead in a process that takes months. Next criminals remove the remaining trees more easily and drop grass seeds by aircraft, consolidating deforestation.
- Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, discovered that in addition to land grabbers, cattle ranchers use the method in order to circumvent forest monitoring efforts.

As Malaysian state resumes log exports, Indigenous advocates warn of fallout
- Effective Jan. 3, the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo has ended a ban on exporting unprocessed logs.
- The ban was put in place in 2018 in a bid to bolster the state’s timber processing industry; critics warn that overturning it will lead to an increase in both legal and illegal logging in the state’s remaining forests.
- Any increase in logging will especially affect the state’s forest-dependent Indigenous communities, including groups that are trying to assert legal rights to their ancestral land.
- The decision to end the export ban comes as the Sabah Forestry Department makes a push to convert 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of degraded forest into timber plantations.

‘Central African Forests Forever’: Meindert Brouwer’s book looks to solutions
- “Central African Forests Forever” is a new, 17-chapter book by independent conservationist and writer Meindert Brouwer.
- One unique aspect of the book is the author’s focus on how Chinese pioneers in sustainable forest management have put forth solutions to safeguard the rainforests of Central Africa, the world’s second-largest after the Amazon.
- Brouwer’s book is available in French, English, and Chinese, and is free to download online.

Here’s how science is trying to conserve the monarch butterfly’s forests
- A team of Mexican scientists are developing a successful experiment that allows for the recovery and maintenance of endemic trees in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve that provide a habitat for monarch butterflies every winter.
- The team is employing a mix of natural restoration, soil conservation and active reforestation that has so far achieved a survival rate of 83 to 84 percent, at least three times more successful than some government reforestation programs.
- According to Dr. Cuauhtémoc Sáenz-Romero, one of the researchers of the project, forests where monarch butterfly colonies are located are becoming more susceptible to climate events through unusual foliage loss and increased woodland mortality.
- Researchers have started to implement the “assisted migration” of oyamel firs (Abies religiosa) to higher altitudes in the reserve, where they can best resist changing climatic conditions.

Greater Mekong primates struggle to cling on amid persistent threats: Report
- The Greater Mekong region is home to 44 species of non-human primates, including gibbons, lorises, langurs, macaques and snub-nosed monkeys, several of which were first described within the last few years.
- Habitat loss and hunting driven by the wildlife trade and consumption have driven many of the region’s primates to the brink of extinction, with many species now only existing as tiny populations in isolated, fragmented pockets of habitat.
- Experts say controlling the illegal wildlife trade is complicated by the presence of legal markets for primates, often for use in biomedical research.
- Despite the challenges, conservation action at local levels is achieving results for some primate species in the region while also enhancing livelihoods and ecosystem services for local communities.

Brazil’s illegal gold rush is fueling corruption, violent crime and deforestation
- Once the epicenter of the global trade in gold, illegal mining is once again surging across the Amazon.
- Its extraction and trade is not only fueling corruption, money laundering and criminal violence – it is accelerating deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest, says Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Igarapé Institute.
- Muggah details a range of challenges facing efforts to rein in the gold mining sector. He says political leadership is critical to make progress on the issue: “Absent political will from the top, however, Brazil’s gold chain will continue to resemble the wild west.”

Total’s oil pipeline gets go-ahead from Ugandan MPs despite secret terms
- Uganda’s parliament has passed a bill approving the construction of a controversial pipeline that will cut through high-biodiversity areas and displace thousands of people.
- Critics say the bill was rushed through parliament to pave the way for a secretive agreement between the government and French oil giant TotalEnergies, the pipeline’s operator.
- The $3.5 billion heated oil pipeline will run 1,445 kilometers (898 miles) from Uganda’s Lake Mwitanzige, in the Albertine Rift, to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania.
- The new bill that undergirds it holds “supremacy” over all existing legislation other than Uganda’s Constitution, making it “very difficult” for laws that offer environmental and social protections to be upheld in the event of a conflict.

Indonesian research center for medicinal plants displaces incense harvesters
- Incense harvesters in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province say the construction of a new center for research into medicinal plants threatens their livelihoods.
- The government says the center will boost Indonesia’s food and drug security, and maximizing the economic potential of Indonesia’s wealth of medicinal plants.

Oil production or carbon neutrality? Why not both, Guyana says
- The government of Guyana says the South American country has already achieved net-zero carbon emissions, and adds it will further cut emissions by 70% by 2030.
- The declaration comes on the heels of Guyana becoming the world’s newest oil-producing country; it began pumping crude at the end of 2019.
- The government has played down the dissonance between its oil-producing status and its emissions reduction goals, saying that oil revenue can be directed to the green economy.
- The question, says Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, “is whether we can become an oil producer and still maintain our environmental credentials, and continue to advocate globally for a zero-carbon economy. And we believe the answer is yes.”

As Indonesia retakes land from developers, conservation is an afterthought
- President Joko Widodo’s administration announced last week that it was cancelling millions of hectares worth of logging, plantation and mining concessions.
- Environmental activists say this presents an opportunity to conserve these lands, which cover a combined area larger than Belgium, by redistributing them to local and Indigenous communities, and protecting areas still home to rainforest.
- However, some senior government officials say the concessions should be reissued to other companies to develop, and indicate that lands redistributed to communities will also be open to investors.

As its end looms, Cerrado tracker records 6-year deforestation high
- The satellite-based deforestation-monitoring program focused on Brazil’s vast Cerrado savanna may end in April because of lack of funding, with some members of the team reportedly already laid off.
- Unlike the monitoring program for the Amazon, the one for the Cerrado isn’t included in the government budget and relies on external financing, which dried up in August 2020; since then, the program team has had to scrounge for funding from other projects and institutions.
- Sharing the scientists’ concerns is the agribusiness sector, which relies on the data to prove that its commodity is deforestation-free, and which has blasted the government’s “blurred” vision with regard to failing to fund the monitoring program.
- News of the impending closure of the monitoring program comes a week after its latest data release showed an area six times the size of the city of São Paulo was cleared between August 2020 and July 2021 — the highest deforestation rate in the Cerrado since 2015.

In Panama, a tiny rainfrog named after Greta Thunberg endures
- A tiny tree frog, new to science, has been named after climate activist Greta Thunberg and her work highlighting the urgency of climate change.
- Scientists found the frog on an expedition to Panama’s Mount Chucantí, home to many unique and endemic species, but which has lost more than 30% of its forest cover in the past decade, mostly to small and medium-scale cattle ranchers.
- High-elevation species like the Greta Thunberg’s rainfrog (Pristimantis gretathunbergae) are vulnerable to fine-scale changes in the environment and climate change and “face a constant risk of extinction,” the study authors write.
- The Panamanian nonprofit Adopt a Rainforest Association created a privately patrolled nature preserve on the mountain where 56 undescribed species have been found by scientists. However, funding shortages made worse by COVID-19 have led to a lack of rangers to protect this unique, forested “sky island.”

Coastal deforestation fuels more frequent storms in West Africa, study warns
- Storms are hitting the densely populated coastal pocket of West Africa twice as frequently as 30 years ago, a new study says.
- Declining forest cover is fueling this increased storm frequency in the coastal regions of southern West Africa.
- With the loss of forests, the daytime temperature difference between land and sea is widening, generating stronger winds and feeding convective storms.
- “The coastal location of deforestation in SWA [southern West Africa] is typical of many tropical deforestation hotspots, and the processes highlighted here are likely to be of wider global relevance,” the study authors write.

Despite sanctions, U.S. companies still importing Myanmar teak, report says
- U.S. timber companies undercut sanctions to import nearly 1,600 metric tons of teak from Myanmar last year, according to a new report.
- Advocacy group Justice for Myanmar said in its report that firms have been buying timber from private companies acting as brokers in Myanmar, instead of directly from the state-owned Myanma Timber Enterprise, which is subject to U.S. sanctions.
- With MTE under military control, Myanmar’s timber auctions have become more opaque, making it difficult to take action against companies circumventing sanctions.

Philippine groups slam ‘cruel Christmas gift’ as open-pit mining ban is lifted
- On Dec. 23, Philippine Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu issued an order overturning a 2017 ban on open-pit mining.
- This follows an April 2021 decision by President Rodrigo Duterte to lift a 2012 moratorium on new mining agreements.
- The move has been welcomed by the mining industry, but slammed by environment and Indigenous rights groups as “a cruel Christmas gift” and “another blow against an already gasping state of our Philippine environment.”

Colombia’s new anti-deforestation law provokes concern for small-scale farmers
- A new law in Colombia aims to address widespread impunity in cases of environmental crime and curb escalating rates of deforestation.
- The legislation, which took effect last August, comes at a time when deforestation continues to climb in Colombia, where more than 171,000 hectares (423,000 acres) were cleared in 2020.
- Human rights groups and environmentalists have expressed concern that law enforcement may use the new legislation to target vulnerable communities instead of the financiers of deforestation.