(ORDO NEWS) — Today, most deforestation takes place in the tropics, but wherever land is cleared, it affects the climate of our planet.
Deforestation is the permanent removal of trees to make room for something other than forest. Deforestation may include clearing land for agriculture or livestock, or using wood for fuel, building material, or production.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), forests cover more than 30% of the Earth’s land surface. These forest areas produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), and provide a home for approximately 80% of Earth’s terrestrial species.
Forests are also a source of food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. Globally, forests provide employment to 13.4 million people in the forest sector, and an additional 41 million people have forest-related jobs.
Forests are an important natural resource, but humans have destroyed a significant amount of forest land. In North America, about half of the forests in the eastern part of the continent were cleared for timber and agriculture between the 1600s and the late 1800s, according to National Geographic.
Today, most deforestation occurs in the tropics. Areas that were inaccessible in the past are now within reach as people build new roads through dense forests. As The New York Times reported in 2020, the world has lost about 10% of its tropical tree cover since 2000 — nearly 121,000 square kilometers of forest land were destroyed in 2019 alone.
The World Bank estimates that about 10 million square kilometers of forest have been lost since the beginning of the 20th century. Over the past 25 years, the area of forests has decreased by 1.3 million square kilometers – more than the area of South Africa.
Why do people destroy forests?
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reports that the vast majority of rainforest deforestation is mainly for four commodities: beef, soybeans, palm oil and wood products. UCS estimates that an area the size of Switzerland (38,300 square kilometers) is lost annually to deforestation.
People often build fires to clear land for agricultural use. Workers first harvest the valuable timber and then burn the remaining vegetation to make room for crops such as soybeans or for livestock to graze.
In 2019, the number of fires in Brazil increased dramatically. As of August 2019, there have been more than 80,000 fires in the Amazon, an almost 80% increase from 2018, according to National Geographic.
Many forests are cut down to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil and is found in half of all supermarket products. Growing oil-producing trees requires clearing natural forests and destroying local peatlands, doubling the impact on the ecosystem, according to a 2020 report published by Business Wire.
According to WWF, forests can be found everywhere from the tropics to high latitudes. They represent a wide range of trees, plants, animals, fungi and microbes. Some places are especially diverse – the rainforests of New Guinea, for example, contain more than 6% of the world’s plant and animal species.
When forests are destroyed, complex ecosystems collapse or die. People who depend on forests also suffer the consequences of widespread deforestation. In countries like Uganda, people use the trees for firewood, timber and charcoal. From 2000 to 2020, Uganda lost over 9,200 square kilometers of its forest cover, according to Global Forest Watch.
Water and forests
Three-quarters of the world’s fresh water comes from forested watersheds, according to the United Nations 2020 State of the World’s Forests report, and tree loss could degrade water quality. The report also notes that more than half of the world’s population uses forest watersheds for drinking water, as well as water used in agriculture and industry.
Deforestation in tropical regions can also affect how water vapor forms over the Earth, which can reduce rainfall. A 2019 study published in the journal Ecohydrology found that parts of the Amazon rainforest that had been converted to farmland had warmer soil and air temperatures. This can exacerbate drought conditions.
In comparison, on wooded lands, the rate of steam formation was about three times higher.
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