- Date: April 27, 2015
- Author: Jill Schwartz
The Amazon, central Africa, the Mekong. These are home to some of the world’s most species-rich, culturally significant and stunningly beautiful forests. But large segments of these forests, and many others around , may not be there in 15 years if we don’t do more to save them.
A new WWF report identifies the 11 regions of the world where most forest loss is expected to occur by 2030 if we do not change the way we address major forest threats, such as mining, agriculture, illegal logging and road construction.
WWF believes that stopping deforestation now is much more strategic and cost-effective than dealing with the consequences of deforestation later. And we need to stop deforestation in all of the 11 hotspots, not just some of them, so that we avoid pushing deforestation out of one country and into another.
Below is a snapshot of the 11 regions included in the report:
The world’s largest forest is also the site of the biggest projected losses. More than one-quarter of the region will be without forests if trends continue. Cattle ranching and agriculture are the dominant causes of deforestation in most of the region.
Atlantic Forest/Gran Chaco
The Atlantic forest—spanning parts of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina—is one of the richest rain forests in the world, with richer biodiversity per acre than the Amazon. However, the region also is where 75 percent of the Brazilian population lives, a situation that places a lot of pressure on the forests. Deforestation in the neighboring Gran Chaco, which is the largest dry forest in South America, is mainly due to conversion of forest land to cropland and pasture.
Projections for 2030 for the “Heart of Borneo”—home to most of the country’s forest—show only 33 percent of the lowland rainforest remaining. Deforestation and degradation are driven by weak governance and a lack of stability that encourages people—especially those who want to create palm oil plantations—to get what they can while they can.
This high plateau region of Brazil is not nearly as well-known as the Amazon. But it is under just as threatened—mainly from cattle ranching and the conversion of forests to soy plantations. If the current rate of loss continues, much of the Cerrado’s savannah, woodland and forests outside of protected areas will disappear by 2030.
The forests in this region, which runs along South America’s northwestern Pacific coast, face pressure from roads, power lines, mining and oil exploration. Most deforestation has been in the Ecuadorian Choco but the Panama and Colombia portions of the region are increasingly under threat.
One of the most important wilderness areas on Earth, this region contains 20 percent of the world’s tropical forests and the highest biological diversity in Africa. The human population here is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, mainly in urban areas. Forests close to large cities are particularly threatened.
Much of this region’s forests are overharvested (for timber and fuelwood), illegally logged or converted for livestock and cash crops. Deforestation cuts through the region’s miombo woodlands, coastal forests and mountain forests. The coastal forests of Tanzania and Kenya have already been reduced to 10 percent of their original area.
Despite a recent reduction in forest loss, a projected weakening of key legislation in the frontline states of Queensland and New South Wales threatens a resurgence in deforestation, mainly to create pasture for livestock. Key species affected include koalas, possums, gliders and tree-dependent birds.
The economy here is booming. With this comes an urgent need to balance conservation with economic development—particularly the desire to convert forest land for sugar, rice, rubber and biofuels. As more land is converted, the threat to species grows. This is a region rich in species. In 2011 alone, 126 new species were discovered here, including fish, snakes, frogs and bats.
New Guinea and its neighboring islands are home to the largest remaining tracts of tropical forest in the Asia-Pacific region—and more than six percent of the world’s species. But they face a growing deforestation threat—agriculture. The rate of deforestation could surge if current proposals for agricultural development are approved.
Sumatra, especially Riau province, has become the center of Indonesia’s palm oil production—the main industry driving deforestation, even in protected forests and national parks. The status of plans by some governments to stabilize and even reverse forest loss remains unclear, leaving tigers, orangutans, rhinos and other wildlife at risk.
We need to take action
Without action, the world could lose up to 656,000 square miles of forest land—an area more than double the size of Texas. We’d also lose all the benefits that forests provide—like jobs, clean water, habitat for endangered species and wood for cooking. Our ability to address climate change could be greatly reduced, as deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This is more than the total emissions from all the cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world.
WWF’s report highlights what can be done at a variety of levels and in different sectors—particularly the agriculture and forest sectors—to turn this situation around. Companies can create policies for sourcing more environmentally-friendly products. Consumers can buy more FSC-certified products. Governments can fund the permanent protection of forests and enforce laws to stop illegal logging, and people can help indigenous communities advocate for their rights to manage forest land.