The ‘relentless’ destruction of the rainforest continues despite Cop26 promises | deforestation – Advice Eating

Pristine rainforests were once again being destroyed at a relentless rate in 2021, according to new figures, raising concerns governments will not reach a Cop26 deal to halt and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade.

From the Brazilian Amazon to the Congo Basin, the tropics lost 11.1 million hectares of tree cover last year, including 3.75 million hectares of primary forest critical to limiting global warming and biodiversity loss.

Boreal forests, mostly in Russia, suffered record loss in 2021, driven by Siberia’s worst wildfire season on record, according to new data from the University of Maryland released via Global Forest Watch.

Calling ongoing forest loss a disaster for action on global warming, experts said the 143 governments that pledged at Cop26 in Glasgow to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 urgently need to deliver on their pledge.

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Of the primary rainforest that was lost in 2021 – releasing the equivalent of India’s annual fossil fuel emissions – 40% disappeared in Brazil, with the DRC, Bolivia, Indonesia and Peru making up the rest of the top 5.

Despite ongoing forest loss, experts pointed to glimmers of hope in the new figures. Indonesia has reduced primary forest loss for the fifth straight year after the government took action on palm oil, firefighting and an updated national climate plan that committed the country to becoming a carbon sink by 2030.

Malaysia has also reduced primary forest loss in recent years, and experts pointed to the examples of Gabon and Guyana, which have had very low rates of forest loss over the past two decades.

Rod Taylor, the global director of the forest program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), which produced the report, said that while global forest loss rates appeared to be leveling off, they would need to decline dramatically for the world to meet climate goals.

“If you look at the year-on-stead statistics, you might conclude that they don’t really provide a headline worth reporting. But when it comes to tropical primary forest loss, persistent rates are linked to climate, the extinction crisis and the fate of many indigenous peoples. Despite pledges from countries and companies, high loss rates remain,” Taylor said.

Wildfires, rising temperatures and deforestation are affecting the resilience of forests around the world. Warnings indicate that parts of the Amazon are in danger of converting from rainforest to savannah. According to the figures, there has been a particularly worrying increase in deforestation in the western Brazilian Amazon, which has been linked to large-scale clearing of cattle pastures along existing roads.

When the Guardian asked for comment, a Brazilian government spokesman said they were committed to the Glasgow Forest Accord, which aims to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2028, and had committed additional resources to help meet the goal.

Deforestation in the Ituri Rainforest in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Deforestation in the Ituri Rainforest in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: Hugh Kinsella Cunningham/EPA

Expansion of smallholder agriculture and felling of trees to meet energy needs led to forest losses in the DRC last year, while Bolivia saw a record loss of primary forests due to farming and fires, including in protected areas.

Frances Seymour, senior fellow at WRI, said the 2021 figures must be taken as a basis for assessing the Cop26 pledges, but underlined that drastic action was needed and warned that countries taking action were not enough would receive financial support.

Seymour said: “We have 20 years of data showing the continued annual loss of millions of hectares of primary tropical forest alone. But we’re not running out of fingers counting the years we have left to bring that number to zero. We already knew that such losses are catastrophic for the climate. They are a disaster for biodiversity. They are a disaster for indigenous peoples and local communities.

“We need to drastically reduce emissions from all sources. No one should think more about planting trees than reducing emissions from fossil fuels. It must be both, now before it is too late.”

UK Environment Secretary Lord Goldsmith, who played a key role in getting 143 countries to agree at Cop26 to halt and reverse deforestation, said the figures were a stark reminder of the need for governments to meet their commitments.

“If we continue to degrade the great forests of the world, from the Amazon to the Congo Basin, the consequences will be terrible for millions of people. We are derailing complex natural systems on which we all depend, and this in turn makes it impossible to achieve any of our shared global goals, from peace to prosperity,” he said.

The governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bolivia did not respond to requests for comment on the figures.

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