The World's Tropical and Boreal Forests Are in Peril

The World's Tropical and Boreal Forests Are in Peril

A new study finds that tropical forests were destroyed at a rate of 10 soccer fields a minute in 2021, enough area in total to cover the entirety of Cuba. Primarily destroyed by logging and fires used to clear land for agriculture, the deforestation released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than India does in a year of burning fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, near the North Pole, tree cover losses were the highest on record in 2021. Boreal forest loss in Alaska, Russia, and Canada was up 30% largely due to wildfires.

Google Earth: Our Forests | Timelapse in Google Earth, April 15, 2021.

CBS: Experimental forest shows impacts of climate change scenarios, April 20, 2022.

Why This Matters

Climate change and industrial deforestation are threatening forests all over the world. Forests, particularly tropical forests, are crucial carbon stores. This means deforestation is the second-largest cause of emissions after burning fossil fuels. In response, world leaders have agreed to try to protect the earth’s forests -- at COP26 last year, 100 countries representing 85% of the earth’s forests committed to ending deforestation by 2030. But according to the nonprofit Global Canopy, a study of 500 businesses and financial institutions revealed no commitments have been made to phase out deforestation, putting that goal in jeopardy.

Global Forest Watch / World Resources Institute, April 2022.

Conservation International: What on Earth is Irrecoverable Carbon?, March 31, 2021.

Forest 500: A climate wake-up: but business failing to hear the alarm on deforestation, January 12, 2022.

A Tipping Point?

In the tropics, over 40% of forest loss in 2021 was in Brazil, in the Amazon rainforest. If the Amazon keeps dwindling, we may hit a climate tipping point, meaning the forest may no longer act as a carbon sink and might even become a net emitter of CO2. In addition, the Amazon contributes to the world’s biodiversity, regulates the area’s climate, and supports millions of people who live there.

Meanwhile, boreal forests store 30-40% of all land-based carbon in the world. But as permafrost melts, these forests could start emitting carbon rather than storing it. This is looking increasingly likely, as boreal forests are warming twice as fast as other parts of the world.

FOX 13 Tampa Bay: Amazon near tipping point of shifting from rainforest to savannah, report says, March 15, 2022.

CongoPeat: Exploring the Central Congo Basin Peatlands, November 9, 2021.

Boreal Conservation: Wetlands of the Boreal Forest, March 29, 2022.