The world has lost a rainforest equivalent to the size of California over a 13-year period, the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Wednesday, calling for COVID-19 recovery plans to revitalize efforts conservation.
In a new report, WWF analyzed 24 deforestation hotspots in Asia, Latin America and Africa, and found that more than 43 million hectares (106 million acres) of forest had been cleared in these areas. between 2004 and 2017.
Fran Raymond Price, head of global forestry practices at WWF International, said the COVID-19 pandemic has clarified the links between deforestation and human health over the past year.
“Where deforestation and land use change are greater, you run the risk that new diseases are more likely,” Price told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The WWF report – which used the best quality data available over the past 20 years – found deforestation occurring at the fastest rates in the Brazilian Amazon and a large swath of the country’s tropical savannah called Cerrado. , the Bolivian Amazon, Paraguay, Argentina, Madagascar and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Commercial agriculture is the main cause of deforestation around the world, especially large-scale agriculture, with forest areas cleared for livestock grazing and cultivation of crops, he said.
While subsistence agriculture was a driving force in Africa, he noted, in Asia, expansion of plantations and commercial agriculture were key factors.
“It’s the way we produce and consume food that is at the heart of the challenge we face,” said Price, pointing to beef, soy and palm oil production as the main culprits.
In all the hot spots, infrastructure development – including the expansion of roads and mining – has also fueled deforestation, WWF said.
Protecting the world’s forests is considered vital to curb global warming as they store carbon that warms the planet and help regulate the climate through precipitation and temperature.
Forests covered about half of the land area 8,000 years ago, but only 30 percent are now forested, Price noted.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, could serve as a trigger for stronger action to save forests, the report added.
“With this devastating pandemic, we also have the opportunity to better rebuild and really look at our relationship with nature and start healing that relationship,” Price said.
The report urged people to play their part in the fight against deforestation by protecting nature where they live and avoiding deforestation-related products by checking food labels.
Voters should also urge their leaders to champion policies to stop deforestation and restore forests, he added.
In addition, urgent action by governments, businesses and regulators was needed to secure land rights for indigenous peoples and local communities, strengthen local control over forests and conserve areas rich in biodiversity, WWF said.
Steps should also be taken to ensure that products from forests are produced and traded legally, ethically and sustainably, to reform supply chains and to push more businesses, lenders and investors to invest. commit to zero deforestation, he added.
According to Price, other ways to reduce deforestation include reducing food waste, using degraded land to produce food, shifting to environmentally friendly farming practices, and increasing focus on indigenous-led conservation efforts. and communities.
“We need to transform our relationship with forests,” she added. “We’re at a point where we’re collectively doing some soul-searching… and the time has come.”