Deforestation fronts

 Deforestation aerial photo of lush green forest on the left and bare brown dirt next to it on the right

Deforestation: A threat to people and nature

From the air we breathe to the wood we use, forests are essential to our lives. They are home to more than half of the world's land-based wildlife species, and globally more than 1 billion people live in and around forests and rely on them for food, shelter, and livelihoods. After oceans, forests are the largest storehouses of carbon—critical in the fight against the climate crisis.

Deforestation in Tesso Nilo, Sumatra

Deforestation in Tesso Nilo, Sumatra

But we are losing forests at an alarming rate.

Two-thirds of global forest cover loss is occurring in the tropic and subtropic regions of the world, where vast clusters of deforestation hot spots—also known as "deforestation fronts"—are destroying the important ecosystem services forests provide. There are 24 of these hot spots that are spread across Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, as illustrated by the map below.

Over 160,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of California, were lost in these deforestation fronts between 2004 and 2017, according to a new report from World Wildlife Fund titled "Deforestation Fronts: Drivers and Responses in a Changing World."

Deforestation puts human health and the health of our planet at risk. From policymakers to companies to consumers, urgent action is needed to halt this alarming trend of forest loss.

What is causing this deforestation?

Agriculture is the leading driver of deforestation around the world. A growing global population and increased food consumption have led to many forests being converted into farms. The type of agriculture varies by geography but includes predominantly commercial agriculture, smallholder farming, and cattle ranching in Latin America; subsistence and small-scale commercial farming in Africa; and commercial agriculture and vast plantations in Asia.

Icon style images showing various regional deforestation types

Causes of deforestation

In addition to agriculture, deforestation is also being driven by other human activities such as logging; human migration and population increases; extractive industries (mining, oil and gas, etc.); as well as expanding transport and infrastructure projects.

Increased public and private sector collaboration and alignment of efforts to address deforestation and forest habitat conversion are important steps to increasing sustainable food production and protecting local peoples' livelihoods while also reducing the environmental impacts of production, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

While the exact causes and drivers of deforestation change over time and vary from region to region, one thing remains consistent: The need for place-based solutions to halt deforestation is critical to protecting our global forests while also protecting the interests and livelihoods of the local peoples who live among them.

The demand for fuelwood and charcoal has led to deforestation in Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa.

Download the report

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