A new study shows a 10% increase in tropical rainforest loss in 2022 — a troubling sign as the global community struggles to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement. That’s the equivalent of losing 11 football fields of forest every minute.
That’s according to the University of Maryland Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory, which goes on to say that Brazil is the biggest culprit. Trees are natural CO2 vacuums. So losing 10.2 million acres has contributed to 2.7 gigatons of heat-trapping emissions.
Importantly, some of the world’s poorest nations have kept their forests intact, home to indigenous populations living off the land. But the developed world has largely ignored those countries. In fact, 145 rainforest leaders signed a declaration in 2021 to end deforestation by 2030. In exchange, advanced nations pledged $1.7 billion to the Global South and indigenous populations.
But if the money doesn’t materialize, they will cut down those trees and use them for timber or farming. This writer is the editor-at-large for a rainforest group representing about 65 countries participating in REDD+ — monitored by the Paris Agreement dedicated to saving their trees.
“The good news is that Indonesia, one of the major deforestation countries in the past, significantly reduced its annual rate of primary forest clearing in recent years, thanks to the implementation of the oil palm plantation expansion moratorium,” said GLAD Research Professor Peter Potapov.
Brazil’s deforestation increased by 14% under the presidency of Joir Bolsonaro, who was in office between 2019 and 2022 and is barred legally from running for political position until 2030 because of false election claims. President Lula has vowed to reverse that trend. Under his previous leadership, Lula’s policies preserved 80% of the Brazilian rainforests between 2004 to 2012.
The aim of the Paris Agreement is climate neutrality by 2050. Tropical rainforests are critical to the cause, because they offset 9 gigatons of CO2 between 2005 and today — a resource that countries can monetize to save their trees.
Indonesia Ponies Up
Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the “earth’s lungs,” making up half of the world’s primary rainforests. On a positive note, Indonesia reports an 8.4% decline in deforestation, attributed to fewer forest fires and stricter permitting. The country’s environmental ministry said the nation lost 257,000 acres between July 2021 and June 2022. It was 280,000 acres the year before.
That may not hold, given that Indonesia is home to raw materials for making electric vehicle batteries, such as nickel.
But the effort is essential to ensuring the lifestyles of its indigenous lands, where cutting trees, driving automobiles, and going hunting are disallowed. “The tree is just like a human body,” said Mail, with only one name and who is part of the Kajang Indonesian tribe, in the Washington Post. “If we preserve the forest, we preserve ourselves. But if the forest is destroyed, there will be nothing for the bees, nothing for the flowers, and nothing for life.”
Indeed, researchers led by the University of Sheffield found indigenous lands had a fifth less deforestation when compared to non-protected areas in Africa and Asia. Meantime, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations said the indigenous and tribal territories of Latin America contain a third of the continent’s forests or 14% of the carbon stored in tropical forests worldwide. To prevent deforestation, it suggests strengthening territorial rights and compensating indigenous and tribal communities for environmental services.
But it is no surprise that the indigenous populations receive little funding. The Rainforest Foundation Norway said deforestation has devastated a third of the tropical rainforest, while degradation has affected another third. Thus, only one-third is intact. But rainforest countries got about $2.7 billion between 2011-2020 from bilateral and multilateral donors and private philanthropies, equating to $270 million annually — a drop in the bucket.
“PNG is not going to the next COP because of broken promises on finance,” says Eunice Dus, senior REDD+ policy analyst for Papua New Guinea, which had 1% tree cover loss from 2001 to 2022, according to Global Forest Watch. “Our prime minister has tried to do the right thing but has been left alone, while traditional industry says it is there for us if we are willing to destroy our environment.”
Tropical rainforests are an immediate solution to climate change. But they must remain standing — a tricky proposition because of emerging nations’ financial challenges. Affluent countries and the corporate world thus face a paradox that will decide whether the globe meets its Paris obligations.