17 July 2023

Destruction of tropical forests increased by 10% in 2022


Despite formal commitments made in Glasgow in 2021, the loss of primary forests in the tropics is increasing, says Global Forest Watch. Brazil tops the list. The cases of Congo R.D., Ghana and Bolivia are also worrying

by Matteo Cavallito


In 2022, the destruction of primary forests in the planet’s tropical areas increased by 10%. A worrying figure that is in contrast with the declarations of joint commitment at international level. This is reported in the latest study by Global Forest Watch, a project of the Washington-based non-profit organisation World Resources Institute.

“This increased forest loss,” says the study, “comes in the first year after heads of 145 countries vowed in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use to halt and reverse forest loss by the end of the decade, recognizing the important role of forests in combating climate change and biodiversity loss. Instead of consistent declines in primary forest loss to meet that goal, the trend is moving in the wrong direction.”

The world has lost 4 million hectares of tropical forests

According to the survey, carried out with the support of the University of Maryland, tropical primary forests lost 4.1 million hectares last year, the equivalent of 11 football fields per minute. The result was the additional release of 2.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent, by way of comparison, to India’s annual fossil fuel emissions.

The effects are evident by several points of view: from climate change to the protection of biodiversity to human well-being.

Worldwide, the researchers noted, some 1.6 billion people, including nearly 70 million members of indigenous communities, depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. Deforestation has increased in the two countries with the most tropical forests: Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The phenomenon is also growing in Ghana and Bolivia, but is slowing down in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Nel 2022 la deforestazione tropicale è aumentata del 10%. Fonte: World Resources Institute 2023

Tropical deforestation increased by 10% in 2022. Source: World Resources Institute 2023

Brazil: Amazonia epicentre of the crisis

Brazil remains at the top of the list in terms of absolute value: the loss of forests recorded in 2022 by the South American nation alone covers 43% of the world total. In detail, the country has lost 1.8 million hectares of primary forests, generating an additional release of 1.2 gigatonnes of CO2, or two and a half times the sum of its annual emissions linked to the exploitation of fossil fuels.

“In Brazil, the rate of destruction of primary forests increased by 15 per cent from 2021 to 2022, with the phenomenon largely concentrated in the Amazon,” the report states. “Non-fire-related losses reached the highest level since 2005.”

Indigenous territories continue to suffer attacks, but at the same time record a much lower rate of deforestation than in similar territories managed by others. A phenomenon, moreover, that highlights the strong commitment of the indigenous communities to fight back, and which has long been seen in other countries as well.

Deforestation growth: no one has performed worse than Ghana

On the whole, the news coming out of Africa is negative. The Democratic Republic of Congo gave up more than half a million hectares in 2022 and the rate of loss has continued to increase in recent years. In other countries of the Congo Basin, data show considerable variability from year to year, probably due to difficulties in collecting satellite data due to cloud cover.

Small-scale agriculture and charcoal production in a territory with limited access to electricity remain crucial factors.

The most alarming data on the continent, however, comes from Ghana, the nation with the highest percentage increase in losses in recent years. In 2022, the country saw 18,000 hectares disappear. This is a small area in absolute terms but extremely significant in relative terms for an area where the presence of primary forests is already very small.

In Ghana la deforestazione tropicale è aumentata lo scorso anno del 71%, il tasso di crescita più alto del Pianeta. Fonte: World Resources Institute 2023

In Ghana, tropical deforestation increased by 71% last year, the highest growth rate on the planet. Source: World Resources Institute 2023

Bolivia: government under fire

As one of the few countries not to have signed the Glasgow Declaration in 2021, Bolivia recorded a record level of primary forest loss in 2022 with a 32% increase over 2021 levels. The expansion of agricultural activities and soybean cultivation in particular has resulted in almost one million hectares of deforestation since the turn of the century.

“Bolivia’s government supports an increase in agribusiness, with goals to reduce imports, implement biofuel production and increase cattle production,” the report says. “These goals have been accompanied by a decriminalization of illegal deforestation and an increase in deforestation authorizations.”

Prominent in this context is the role of fires, which were responsible for about one third of the total loss of primary forest last year. The fires, the study explains, are often man-made but are also the result of increasing drought. Which is a consequence, in turn, of altered precipitation patterns linked to the effects of deforestation in the Amazon. A classic vicious circle, in short.