Forests

Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. Deforestation accounts for about 20% of global emissions of CO2. In 2016, the world’s forests lost more than 73.4 million acres of tree cover, a 51% increase over 2015.    December 2015: Three trillion trees on planet Earth – what it means. link  Full article below in first section.                 

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Latest news:

Sept. 12 2018: Forests and indigenous rights land $459 million commitment. A group of 17 philanthropic foundations has committed at least $459 million through 2022 in support of land-based solutions to climate change, including forest conservation and restoration, and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ collective land rights and resource management. Foundations have the potential to mobilize resources more quickly, and take on bigger risks, than governments. link

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         Below

  • How fast are rainforests disappearing? How many trees are there?
  • The Amazon region
  • REDD – UN program to restore forests
  • How forests trap one trillion tons of carbon
  • Boreal Forests & Mangrove Forests
  • Rainforests provide cures for disease
  • Elsewhere in the world

Causes of deforestation
Recommended sites:
World Rainforest Movement
Global Forest Watch
Rainforest Action Network

Google has developed an interactive map to show forest change around the planet – link

How fast are rainforests disappearing – how many trees are there?

June 2018: The world is losing vital forests quicker than ever. The years 2016 and 2017 saw the highest global tree cover loss ever recorded. Tropical forests in South America and Central Africa are disappearing at an alarming rate. In 2017, the world lost 29.4 million hectares (72.6 million acres) of tree cover – more than double the size of Germany. According to new data by Global Forest Watch this was only slightly down from the 2016 record of 29.7 million hectares (73.4 million acres). link   August 2018: Trees are gaining ground globally. Satellite images reveal widespread forest growth, but new trees won’t halt climate change and biodiversity loss.  Perhaps even more surprisingly, human decisions drove most of the arboreal expansion. Despite thousands of years of tree cutting, forest destruction and regrowth, forests still cover roughly a third of the planet. The re-growth of smaller trees in the higher latitudes is a good thing, but it will not do anything to offset the losses that we have in the tropics. link

January 2018: Planting trees becoming big business world-wide. Technology is bringing down the cost of tree planting, and startup companies are part of an emerging “restoration economy” focused on reforestation and otherwise restoring degraded land. Around the world, driven in part by the Paris Agreement on climate change, governments have made commitments to restore an area of degraded land larger than South Africa. link

September 2017: World’s forests are being razed to sate global demand for produce. Around 70% of deforestation is linked to the production of agricultural commodities that end up in food products eaten around the world. If current rates of tropical deforestation continue, the world’s rainforests will vanish within 100 years, eliminating the majority of plant and animal species on the planet. link

September 2017: Alarm as study reveals world’s tropical forests are huge carbon emission source. Forests globally are so degraded that instead of absorbing emissions they now release more carbon annually than all the traffic in the US, say researchers. Overall, more carbon was lost to degradation and disturbance than deforestation. The researchers stressed this was an opportunity as well as a concern because it was now possible to identify which areas are being affected and to restore forests before they disappeared completely. Latin America – home to the Amazon, the world’s biggest forest – accounted for nearly 60% of the emissions, while 24% came from Africa and 16% from Asia. link

In 1950, about 15% of the Earth’s land surface was covered by rainforest. In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day, and 78 million acres lost every year. It is estimated that the Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year. If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80 to 90% of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020. link

February 2017: Forests worldwide threatened by drought. Forests around the world are at risk of death due to widespread drought, according to research at University of Stirling in Scotland. Analysis suggests that forests are at risk globally from the increased frequency and severity of droughts. The study found a similar response in trees across the world, where death increases consistently with increases in drought severity. link

January 2017: We are destroying rainforests so quickly, they may be gone in 100 years – link
The scale of deforestation – link

December 2015: Three trillion trees on planet Earth – what it means. A Yale University science team came to an estimate for the number of trees on Planet Earth – 3,041,000,000,000 – saying it is interesting to know the number of trees in the world but asking why is it useful? It is our duty as scientists to help environmental stewards and decision-makers by filling critical gaps in our knowledge. In the face of climate change – one of the most significant global threats to life as we know it – we are faced with one clear challenge: we must remove carbon from the atmosphere. Despite all of our best technological advances, it is nature that provides us with our single most effective weapons in this fight against rising CO2 concentrations. Trees absorb carbon directly from the atmosphere to be stored in their biomass and the soil. The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and Plant for the Planet designed the ambitious “Billion Tree Campaign”. The problem was that no-one had any idea how many trees there were to start with. Without a baseline understanding of the Earth’s forests, it was difficult to comprehend the impacts of these restoration efforts. By using strict criteria for the information included (e.g. using only trees with trunks equal to or larger than 10 cm diameter), and incorporating a huge amount of data into predictive equations, the margin of error around this global estimate was exceptionally small (192 billion trees). By combining satellite technology with ground-sourced information collected by local forestry experts around the world, the most detailed map of the world’s forests to date was generated. It revealed that the Earth’s forests are home to approximately 3.041 trillion trees. Therefore one billion additional trees would only represent an increase of 0.03% on top of the current global number. In addition, the study revealed that we lose approximately 10 billion trees each year, so even if the billion tree campaign was repeated annually, it would not get us much closer to the goal of halting the net global forest loss. With new information, UNEP and Plant for the Planet’s new target is to restore one trillion trees, and work has begun in earnest – the total number of trees planted to date already exceeds 14 billion. link
  • October 2015: Indonesia has the world’s highest rate of deforestation – link
  • May 2013: Sumatra’s rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years – link
    September 2012: Ten African countries come together to protect rainforests – link

February 2014: New on-line tool tracks tree loss. Global Forest Watch (GFW.org) has launched a new global monitoring system that promises “near real time” information on deforestation around the world. It uses information from hundreds of millions of satellite images as well as data from people on the ground. Data from Google and the University of Maryland says the world lost 230 million hectares of trees between 2000 and 2012. link   

 The Amazon region

July 2018: Amazon deforestation news could be bad for 2017-18. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was dramatically reduced between 2005 and 2015, surged in 2016, then fell in 2017. Preliminary figures suggest the trend has now reversed, with deforestation up 22% between August 2017 and May 2018, compared to the same period the prior year, though official confirmation is lacking. From 2005 to 2015, the Brazilian government made major headway in reducing, and holding the line against Amazon deforestation – reductions recognized by the environmental movement. Of concern was a surge in carbon emissions due to vast Amazon wildfires (most of which were set by people using fire as a land clearing tool). Who is elected president in the October 2018 elections will be crucial to future protection. link

October 2017: Largest ever tropical reforestation is planting 73 million trees. The project in the Brazilian Amazon is using a new technique (called muvuca) for planting trees that results in more, stronger plant, and hopes to cover 70,000 acres in new forests. The project over the next six years, led by Conservation International, will become the largest tropical reforestation project in history, planting 73 million trees that will sprout up across what’s known as the “arc of deforestation,” in three Brazilian states and throughout the Xingu watershed. The strategy demands that seeds from more than 200 native forest (collected by indigenous women and local youths) species are spread over every square meter of burnt and mismanaged land, and as seeds germinate they compete for nutrients and sunlight, and the strongest ultimately become big trees able to survive drought conditions for up to six months without irrigation. link

August 2017: Increasing droughts in the Amazon. The latest study shows human influence in the 2015-2016 drought which clearly exceeded that of the 100-year events in 2005 and 2010. So, in approximately one decade, this zone has had three 100-year events. link

April 2017: Business as usual: Resurgence of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
After years of positive signs, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon is on the rise, with a sharp increase in 2016. The annual deforestation rate in Brazil’s Amazon plunged from nearly 11,000 square miles in 2004 to 1,700 square miles in 2012, an 84% decline. These widely publicized declines led not only to the impression among the international conservation community that Amazon deforestation was finally ebbing. It also led to a dangerous illusion taking hold in the capital of Brasília – the belief that deforestation was thoroughly under control, and thus the government could build roads, dams, and other infrastructure at will in Amazonia, without consequences for the world’s largest rainforest. Deforestation has trended upwards since 2012, with a sharp 29% increase in the rate of clearing in 2016. link

April 2015: About 1% of all the tree species in the Amazon account for 50% of carbon stored. Although the region is home to an estimated 16,000 tree species, researchers found that just 182 species dominated the carbon storage process. The tropical forest covers an estimated 5.3 million sq. km and holds 17% of the global terrestrial vegetation carbon stock.  link

The Amazon Basin and deforestation

The Amazon River Basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. The basin – roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States – covers some 40% of the South American continent. (The Congo is home to the world’s second largest rainforest – 18% of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforest.) more

Global agricultural expansion cut a wide swath through tropical forests during the 1980s and 1990s. More than half a million square miles of new farmland was created in the developing world between 19080 and 2000, of which over 80% was carved out of tropical forests. “Every million acres of forest that is cut releases the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as 40 million cars do in a year,” Stanford researcher Holly Gibbs said. link

April 2010: Soy farming driving deforestation. Industrial soy expansion in the Brazilian Amazon has contributed to deforestation by pushing cattle ranchers further into rainforest zones.  Research supports claims that soy is an important indirect driver of deforestation.  Soy production exploded in the early 1990s following the development of a new variety suitable to the soils and climate of that region. link

 REDD – UN program to restore forests

REDD origins. REDD began percolating way back in the early 1970s. A 2009 study calculated that deforestation is responsible for about 15% of global carbon emissions, down from earlier estimates of 20% or more. Most of the world’s deforestation is concentrated in a few tropical nations, like Brazil and Indonesia where trees are disappearing fast. Ahead of the Copenhagen conference, here’s how it would work in detail: developing nations would accept some kind of limit on deforestation rates, and in exchange for preserving those forests, they would receive compensation from developed countries, which would then be able to use the carbon they’re saving to meet their own carbon caps. It’s as simple as that, a recognition that rich nations will have to provide developing countries an economic rationale to stop cutting down trees. link
Q & A on REDD. & REDD+

             REDD fails to be effective in Indonesia and Brazil effective.

Indonesia:
March 2016: Norway admits no actual progress reducing deforestation 
Six years ago, Norway and Indonesia signed a US$1 billion REDD deal. Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s climate and environment minister said that saving Indonesia forests could massively increase the chance of saving the world’s climate. However, Norway’s REDD money comes from its oil industry. By buying REDD credits from Indonesia to allow continued drilling of oil in Norway, saving Indonesia’s forests will not increase the chance of saving the world’s climate at all. It will at best move the emissions source from Indonesia to Norway. link

Brazil:
October 2015: Norway pays Brazil $1 billion. But what for exactly? In 2008, Norway agreed to pay US$1 billion to Brazil’s Amazon Fund, if Brazil reduced deforestation in the Amazon. Norway has so far handed over US$900 million and will pay the final US$100 million before the end of 2015. The Norwegian government explains that the payments are “in recognition of Brazil’s outstanding results in reducing Amazon deforestation over the last decade,” saying Norway’s US$1 billion helped reduce deforestation in Brazil. Deforestation started to fall in 2004 and was falling faster before Norway’s payments started. However, most of the actions that contributed to reducing deforestation in Brazil took place before the Brazil-Norway deal, and the others have nothing to do with REDD, or Norway. link  [Update – June 2017 – Norway has issued a blunt threat to Brazil that if rising deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is not reversed, its billion-dollar financial assistance will fall to zero. link]   

September 2016: World nears 2020 goal of restoring degraded forests.
The pledges are part of the Bonn Challenge launched in 2011 to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020. “We have crossed the 100 million hectare milestone to 113 million hectares and we are well on our way to achieving the Bonn Challenge target,” said human rights activist Bianca Jagger at a press conference in Hawaii. link

September 2015: Indigenous Peoples campaign against REDD. Indigenous Peoples and civil society organizations from Africa and all over the world, call upon the United Nations, the World Forestry Congress, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and states to reject top-down forms of development, including false solutions to climate change and forest and biodiversity conservation that only serve the dominant market economy. link

June 2015: Some communities take issue with REDD. With Paris looming, a US official in Bonn said the draft text, which will be formally agreed in Paris, was a big moment for efforts to slow deforestation and protect regions holding vast stores of carbon. “It is big. It has been ten years of work. It concludes all of guidance around a really important issue which is how you reduce emissions from forests in developing countries.” Many communities have complained of forest carbon initiatives which failed to consult or at worst displaced villages and in some cases did not share revenues with locals. In a well documented case, one Panama forest tribe engaged in a year-long campaign against Redd+, which it said ignored their rights and effectively sold off their traditional lands to outside investors. link

December 2015: Africa pledges to restore forests by 2030. Africa contributes little to the world’s carbon emissions but is one of the regions most affected by climate change. African states are launching an initiative to restore 386,000 square miles of forest on the continent by 2030. Ten countries have pledged to replenish 31.7 million hectares of degraded or deforested woodlands as part of the African Restoration Initiative, launched at a climate change conference in Paris this weekend. link

 How forests trap one trillion tons of carbon

When fossil fuels are burned they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to an atmospheric carbon dioxide increase that, in turn, contributes to global warming and climate change. Trees and forests help alleviate these changes by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it during photosynthesis to carbon, which they then “store” in the form of wood and vegetation, a process referred to as “carbon sequestration.”

Trees are generally about 20% carbon by weight and, in addition to the trees themselves, the overall biomass of forests also acts as a “carbon sink.” For instance, the organic matter in forest soils – such as the humus produced by the decomposition of dead plant material – also acts as a carbon store. As a result, forests store enormous amounts of carbon: in total, the world’s forests and forest soils currently store more than one trillion tons of carbon – twice the amount found floating free in the atmosphere – according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO ) studies. Destruction of forests, on the other hand, adds almost six billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and preventing this stored carbon from escaping is important for the carbon balance and vital in conserving the environment, the UN (FAO) agency says.
Web site for fao.org/forestry
However some of the positive statistics (Global report cites progress in slowing forest losses) offered by FAO are countered by the World Rainforest Movement

March 2017: A Voice for the Planet (video) The Amazon rain forest is one of the most bio-diverse habitats on the planet. It’s pristine nature resource is threatened by oil drilling and the deforestation required to access the land. Species, including the indigenous humans are threatened by this insane practice – view

May 2016: Studies show benefits of second-growth forests. According to a new study, woodland areas that regrow after forest fires, logging operations or other disturbances can sequester huge amounts of CO2 and they play an unexpectedly valuable role in mitigating climate change. The research is the first to quantify how much carbon these so-called second-growth forests can sequester – and it turns out it’s huge. link

June 2014: Saving trees in tropics could cut CO2 emissions by 20%.  Reducing deforestation in the tropics would significantly cut the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere — by as much as 20% – research shows. In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the world’s tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity. They found that tropical forests absorb almost two billion tonnes of carbon each year, equivalent to one-fifth of the world’s carbon emissions, by storing it in their bark, leaves and soil. However, an equivalent amount is lost through logging, clearing of land for grazing, and growing biofuel crops such as palm oil, soya bean and sugar. Peat fires in forests add significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions. link

August 2013: How much carbon is locked up in a tree? Estimating the amount of carbon stored in a forest comes from measuring a tree’s diameter at breast height. The biomass, or living matter, of a tree is about half carbon by weight, and based on tree measurements from around the world, researchers have devised an equation to measure carbon using trunk diameter. A tree more or less average shape, height, and density for the tropics contains 3 metric tonnes of carbon locked up in its wood tissue. On average, trees in tropical forests hold about 50% more carbon per hectare than trees outside the tropics. link

June 2011: Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon. A Finland/USA report based on a survey of 68 nations, found that the amount of carbon stored in forests increased in Europe and North America from 2000-2010 despite little change in forest area.  In Africa and South America, the total amount of carbon stored in forests fell at a slower rate than the loss of area, indicating that they had grown denser. Forests in Asia became less dense over the same period. The study did not try to estimate the overall trend, saying there was not yet enough data.  Forests that were established in China a few decades ago are now starting to reach their fast-growing phase, a reason for rising density now. link         

 Boreal & Mangrove Forests

The global boreal forest is a source of carbon which happens to be the world’s largest terrestrial storehouse of carbon and has been largely overlooked in international climate discussions to date. The boreal forest circles the northern portion of our globe, carefully edging along the southern arctic through Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, and Alaska. A report out of Canada states that the boreal forest stores as much as 703 billion tons of carbon in its trees, peatlands, and soils – this amounts to nearly twice the storage capacity per unit area as tropical forests. The main difference with boreal forests is that a significant portion of its carbon is stored below vegetation level whereas tropical forests tend to store the majority of their carbon in the trees and plants themselves. Because boreal forests reside in much colder climates, much of the carbon stored in its vegetation never fully decomposes and is gradually pushed into thick layers of peat and permafrost to be stored for thousands of years. While rates of deforestation in boreal forests tend to be lower than tropical forests, this is no cause for indifference. Around 30% of Canada’s Boreal Forest has been designated for logging, and this number becomes much higher when including mining and oil and gas leases. link 

April 2015: Wildfires are wiping out Canada and Russia’s boreal forests. Canada and Russia have lost an alarming number of trees in recent years, compromising the ecologically rich and carbon-sequestering boreal forests that are native to the regions, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI).  Russia, the country home to the world’s largest area of tree cover, loses an average of 16,600 square miles of tree cover every year, an area larger than Switzerland. Boreal forests serve as major carbon sinks, so losing the forests is bad news for climate change. link

March 2011: Boreal forests across the Northern hemisphere are undergoing rapid, transformative shifts as a result of a warming climate that, in some cases, is triggering feedback loops producing even more regional warming, according to several new studies. Scientists find that as the climate warms, vast tracks of boreal forest are undergoing a biome shift. link 

Mangrove Forests.
Mangrove forests are among the most productive and biologically important ecosystems of the world, including trees, palms and shrubs which grow at tropical and subtropical tidal zones across the equator. Now scientists can use the world’s most definitive map of the Earth’s mangrove forest to reveal that approximately 53,190 square miles (137, 760 km2) of mangroves exist, substantially less than previous estimate. New data shows that forest distribution is 12.3% smaller than earlier estimates. Increasingly human activity and frequent severe storms have taken their toll, resulting in a loss rate for mangrove forests higher than the loss of inland tropical forests and coral reefs. “The current estimate of mangrove forests of the world is less than half what it once was, and much of that is in a degraded condition,” said Dr. Chandra Giri from USGSG. “It is believed that 35% of mangrove forests were lost from 1980 to 2000.”  link         July 2018: How mangroves help keep the planet coollink

 Rainforests provide cures for disease

Rainforest plants, and to a lesser extent rainforest animals, are the source of compounds useful for medicinal purposes. The rainforest has been called the ultimate chemical laboratory with each rainforest species experimenting with various chemical defenses to ensure survival in the harsh world of natural selection. Rainforest plants have already provided tangible evidence of their potential with remedies for all sorts of medical problems, from childhood leukemia to toothaches. Seventy percent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest. Fewer than 5% of tropical forest plant species (and 0.1% of animal species) have been examined for their chemical compounds and medicinal value. link

February 2016: Medicinal plants from the Amazon. The Amazon rainforest is known for its rich biodiversity, but few realize that this natural wealth goes far deeper than just the animals and beautiful flora. The rare plants of the Amazon not only create a unique natural environment, but have been used by ancient civilizations (and are still being used today) for their powerful medicinal properties. From anxiety to infertility, to cancer and AIDS, these medicinal plants have long been used to heal all of humankind’s ailments- and we’ve likely only discovered a small percentage of them. Here are just 10 of the most useful medicinal plants of the Amazon rainforest (though there are thousands more!), and what they can be used for. link

 Elsewhere in the world

May 2017: Vast area of ‘hidden’ forests discovered. An international partnership of scientists has just discovered an area of dryland forest bigger than the European Union landmass. They have been examining the world’s drylands, which cover about 40% of the terrestrial planet, and the estimate increases the area of global forest by 9%. link

The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, (QCC) launched in Malta in 2015, seeks a unique network of forest conservation Jinitiatives in all 53 countries comprising the Commonwealth. link

February 2017: Indonesia’s forests get some help. Indonesia has had a long history of conflict over control of its massive areas of tropical forests that are spread across the many thousands of islands that make up the archipelagic nation. Declaration under former Dutch colonial rule of state ownership of all forests was rarely accepted by the millions of people who lived in them and who had managed them sustainably for centuries. President Widodo has bestowed the right to manage customary forests on nine indigenous communities, heralding the end of decades of uncertainty and the beginning of a new era of secure right to land. link

November 2016: Protected forests in Europe felled to meet EU renewable targets. Protected forests are being indiscriminately felled across Europe to meet the EU’s renewable energy targets, according to an investigation by the conservation group Birdlife. Up to 65% of Europe’s renewable output currently comes from bioenergy, involving fuels such as wood pellets and chips, rather than wind and solar power. Bioenergy fuel is supposed to be harvested from residue such as forest waste but, under current legislation, European bioenergy plants do not have to produce evidence that their wood products have been sustainably sourced. (See also page on Biomass Energy) link

December 2015: Africa reveals plan to reforest the continent. By 2030, African nations have vowed to restore 100 million hectares (around 386,000 square miles) of the forest. The “AFR100” activity is an aspiring and phenomenal arrangement by more than twelve African nations to do what they can do in the event of a climate disaster. link   August 2018: The great African regreening: millions of ‘magical’ new trees bring renewallink

April 2015: China’s “Great Green Wall” helps increase carbon storage on Earth. The total amount of carbon stored in all living biomass above the soil has increased globally by almost 4 billion tons since 2003, with China contributing in a notable way to the increase. The increase in vegetation primarily came from a lucky combination of environmental and economic factors and massive tree-planting projects in China. Vegetation increased on the savannas in Australia, Africa and South America as a result of increasing rainfall, while in Russia and former Soviet republics we have seen the regrowth of forests on abandoned farmland. China was the only country to intentionally increase its vegetation with tree planting projects.” link  [Pictured: Trees like these planted along the edge of the Gobi Desert make up much of China’s Green Great Wall.] (Photo: Flickr)

March 2010: Forest loss slows as China plants and Brazil preserves – link

May 2009: Deforestation faster in Africa: Less than 2% of Africa’s forests are under community control, compared to a third in Latin America and Asia, say the Rights and Resources Initiative. The deforestation rate in Africa is four times the world’s average. link