Forests cover about one-third of the land area on our planet. Eighty percent of the world’s land-based species, such as elephants and rhinos, live in forests.
Forests also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns. Forests around the world are under threat. The threats most arise from deforestation and the main cause of forest degradation is illegal logging.
Expanding agriculture, due to an increased population is responsible for most of the world’s deforestation. As the human population continues to grow, there is an obvious need for more food. Rising demand has created incentives to convert forests to farmland and ranch land. Once a forest is lost to agriculture, it is usually gone forever, along with many of the plants and animals that once lived there.
We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute of every day. Deforestation is a particular concern in tropical rain forests because these forests are home to much of the world’s biodiversity. For example, in the Amazon around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.
Deforestation can happen quickly, such as when a fire sweeps through the landscape or the forest is clear-cut to make way for an oil palm plantation. While deforestation appears to be on the decline in some countries, it remains disturbingly high in others, including Brazil and Indonesia and a grave threat to our world’s most valuable forests still remains.
Over the next 15 years, forest landscapes equalling an area more than twice the size of Texas could be lost to rampant deforestation, according to a WWF report.
Fires are a natural and beneficial element of many forest landscapes, but they are problematic when they occur in the wrong place, at the wrong frequency, or at the wrong severity. Each year, millions of acres of forest around the world are destroyed or degraded by fire. Fire is often used as a way to clear land for other uses such as planting crops.
These fires not only alter the structure and composition of forests, but they can open up forests to invasive species, threaten biological diversity, alter water cycles and soil fertility, and destroy the livelihoods of the people who live in and around the forests.
When forests are cut, burned or removed they emit carbon, instead of absorb carbon. Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gas emissions contribute to rising temperatures, changes in patterns of weather and water, and an increased frequency of extreme weather events.
Without urgent action nearly half of all global forests are under threat of deforestation and forest degradation representing a major risk to the global climate, biodiversity, water, communities and businesses who rely on healthy forest.
I think we need to become less selfish and more selfless and think about deforestation, and forest degradation. Although I appreciate we have an increased population, we must still be more mindful of our practices and introduce practices that will work the land but will also not harm the planet.
We need to look beyond what we do now so that we are more mindful, because without us saving the planet, the human species will not survive.