Global deforestation slowed in 2021, but a vital climate target to end deforestation by 2030 will still be missed without urgent action, according to estimates.
The area destroyed in 2021 fell by 6.3% after progress in some countries, especially Indonesia. But almost 7 million hectares have been lost, and the destruction of the most carbon- and biodiversity-rich tropical rainforests has been reduced by only 3%. CO2 the emissions resulting from the lost trees were equivalent to the emissions of the entire European Union plus Japan.
Global warming cannot be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels without ending deforestation, experts say. At the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, 145 countries pledged to end deforestation by the end of the decade. Deforestation and degradation cause about 10% of global carbon emissions.
However, based on current trends, the Glasgow leaders’ declaration would be as “hollow” as the pledge countries made in 2014 to end deforestation by 2020, the assessment’s authors said.
There was little clarity or transparency of the measures taken to end deforestation and only 1% of the required funding was provided, they said, and most importantly a lack of political will.
Erin Matson of Climate Focus, a policy group and one of the coalition of organizations that conducted the assessment, said: “ [Glasgow declaration] it was a big moment, the first time such a goal was accepted at the leadership level by so many countries, covering 90% of global forests.
“But we are not on the right track.” There has been a modest improvement, but even this may only be temporary. Many countries are putting their progress at risk by phasing out or phasing out protections. For example, Indonesia has not renewed its moratorium on palm oil after it expired in September 2021, and the recently passed job creation law poses a serious threat to natural forests.
The largest area of forest destroyed in 2021 was in Brazil, where deforestation increased under President Jair Bolsonaro, after falling under his predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Scientists have described the election contest between the two on October 30 as likely to determine Amazon’s fate. “The stakes are high,” Mattson said.
David Gibbs, research associate at the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Global Forest Watch, said: “We are rapidly moving towards another round of empty commitments and lost forests.
Fran Price, of the World Wildlife Fund, said: “There is no way to meet the 1.5C target or reverse biodiversity loss without halting deforestation and conversion. It is time for bold leadership and bold solutions.”
Four of the top five countries with the largest areas of deforestation – Brazil, Bolivia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Paraguay – increased destruction in 2021.
However, “remarkable progress” in some countries showed that the 2030 target was still possible, the authors said. Indonesia, the only country to have reduced deforestation in each of the previous five years, and its neighbor Malaysia, have reduced deforestation by around 25% in 2021. As a result, tropical Asia is the only region on track for zero deforestation by in 2030.
A drive to end deforestation for cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana helped reduce deforestation by 47% and 13% respectively, while new national parks and measures to combat illegal logging led to a 28% drop in Gabon. Tropical Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala also reported reductions in deforestation in 2021.
“We have the data and we know what interventions work – the missing element is the political will to actually take those actions,” said Frances Seymour of SAI.
Measures include government bans combined with effective enforcement, cooperation with companies producing beef, soybeans, timber and other commodities whose products are most closely associated with deforestation, international trade measures and strengthening the land rights of indigenous and other local people.
Countries supporting the Glasgow Declaration have pledged to quadruple annual funding to combat deforestation, but no information was yet available on how those pledges would be met, the authors said.
Only a quarter of the largest global companies in the agricultural sector have announced a strong policy to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, and only 20% of them are close to meeting their commitments.
The new forest declaration assessment used data on permanent tree loss worldwide to create a baseline from 2018-20. To reach zero deforestation by 2030, a 10% annual decline is required, which means that the current slowdown in deforestation is not enough.
Forest cover has increased in some countries since 2000, but less than the area lost. New forests cannot compensate for the enormous carbon storage and biodiversity of existing natural forests, the authors say.
Protecting intact forests had even more climate benefits than CO alone2 stored, Seymour said, thanks to their role in producing the clouds that cool the planet. “If we consider non-carbon processes, they amplify the cooling effect of ending tropical forest loss by about 50%,” she said.
Michael Volosin, of Conservation International, said: “That 50% cooling bonus needs to be included by forest countries in their accounting to get the recognition and funding they deserve for the services their forests provide to the world.”