Global and Canadian forests are disappearing at a very rapid rate

A recent study from Greenpeace, the University of Maryland, and Transparent World, in collaboration with World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia, paints a distressing picture of the state of the world’s forests. According to the study, which is based on analysis of satellite imagery, more than 8 percent of the world’s Intact Forest Landscapes, often known as Old Growth Forests, have been degraded since the year 2000. This is an area measuring 104 million hectares, or three times the size of Germany. In other words, human activities disturbed 20,000 hectares of pristine forest every day for the past 13 years.

Among other interesting findings published by WRI:

  • Fragmentation is the biggest form of Intact Forest Landscapes degradation, accounting for almost three-quarters of the global total. Fragmentation is the splitting up of IFLs—think slicing a pie in half versus taking a whole piece of it. It’s caused by the expansion of logging, mining and development activities, as well as the infrastructure that comes along with these, such as roads. Fragmentation opens remote forest areas to further development, including increased logging and permanent conversion to other land uses.
  • The fragmentation of IFLs is problematic because smaller, more isolated forest patches will lose species faster than those that are larger or less isolated. Small forest “islands” typically cannot support the same biodiversity or ecosystem services that a single contiguous forest would, even if their combined area is much larger than the single contiguous forest. Many species, particularly large mammals, depend on large tracts of unbroken forest to maintain viable populations. The only way to maintain IFLs’ full range of ecosystem services is to maintain their “intactness.” They cannot easily be restored once fragmentation and degradation have occurred.
  • Three countries – Canada, Russia and Brazil – contain 65 percent of the world’s remaining IFLs.
  • The largest areas of IFL degradation are found in the Northern boreal forest belt of Canada, Russia and Alaska (47 percent) and tropical forest regions such as the Amazon (25 percent) and Congo (9 percent) basins.
  • The country with the highest total area of degradation since 2000 is Canada.

According to Greenpeace, the destruction of forests is responsible for up to a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – more than every plane, car, truck, ship and train on the planet combined.

This study is likely to add to pressure to reduce use of, and protect, forest resources. WRI recommends:

  • Government leaders should steer development away from IFLs. In addition, officials can slow IFL destruction by prioritizing legal protection of these areas.
  • Companies with sustainability commitments should avoid IFLs when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy.
  • Forest sustainability certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil should give special consideration to include IFLs in their assessment criteria and ensure effective implementation of commitments to protect intact forests.

Greenpeace International is campaigning for zero deforestation, globally, by 2020. To achieve this, the organization challenges destructive industries to change their practices and it encourages consumer action to demand that food, paper and timber products aren’t linked to forest destruction. It also lobbies politicians to take the co-ordinated international and local political action that’s needed to protect the world’s forests, the rights of the people who depend on them, biodiversity and the climate.

More information, including links to the report’s methodology and maps, is available at http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/09/8-percent-worlds-remaining-pristine-forests-degraded-2000

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