A football pitch-sized area of tropical rainforest was lost every six SECONDS in 2019, study shows

  • 9.3 million acres of primary forest were lost in 2019, the third biggest figure ever
  • Brazil accounted for more than a third of all primary forest loss in 2019 
  • Australia’s wildfires saw it experience a 560 per cent jump in tree cover loss

Last year was one of the worst years ever for the world’s tropical rainforests, a study using satellite images has found. 

Analysis from Global Forest Watch, run by the World Resource Institute (WRI), found an area of tropical rainforest the size of a football pitch was lost every six seconds. 

The most important wooded areas in the world, called primary forests, feature decades-old trees and are invaluable to the world’s ecosystems as they are home to vast amounts of species while also soaking up huge amounts of carbon. 

A total of 9.3 million acres of this invaluable land was destroyed in 2019, the third biggest decline since 2000 and an area almost the size of Switzerland. 

‘The level of forest loss we saw in 2019 is unacceptable,’ Frances Seymour, a fellow with the World Resources Institute told the New York Times. 

‘We seem to be going in the wrong direction.’ 

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 Analysis from Global Forest Watch, run by the World Resource Institute (WRI), found an area of tropical rainforest the size of a football pitch was lost every six seconds. Brazil accounted for more than a third of all primary forest loss in 2019

 The most important wooded areas in the world, called primary forests, feature decades-old trees and are invaluable to the world’s ecosystems as they are home to vast amounts of species while also soaking up huge amounts of carbon

Mikaela Weisse, a project manager at the GFW, said: ‘Primary forests are the areas we are the most concerned about – they have the biggest implications for carbon and biodiversity. 

‘The fact that we are losing them so rapidly is really concerning,’ she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Primary forest loss hit a record high in 2016 and 2017 before dipping in 2018. However, loss increased by 2.8 per cent from 2018 to 2019, making 2019 the third worst year on record.  

Agricultural expansion, wildfires, logging, mining and population growth all contribute to deforestation, according to GFW researchers.

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil has been singled out as the worst offending nation for deforestation as it accounted for more than a third of all primary forest loss in 2019 — a staggering 1.36 million hectares, an area larger than the entire country of Montenegro. 

The continent’s Amazon rainforest was devastated by fires throughout much of 2019, but in Brazil, most of these blazes avoided the precious primary forests. 

Instead, they occurred in already deforested areas as farmers cleared logged land for agriculture and cattle, according to the data.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly received criticism from environmentalists for implementing policies that encourage illegal activity at the detriment of nature. 

Last year, in Mr Bolsonaro’s first year in office, deforestation spiked by 85 per cent to an 11-year high, according to data from the Brazilian Space Research Institute (INPE).

International outrage forced the Brazilian president, a noted climate change sceptic who advocates opening protected lands to mining and farming, to act. 

Despite the outcry of 2019, the Brazilian government has let their environmental crisis spiral out of control as their COVID-19 crisis deepens. 

Analysis from the first few months of 2020 found an area almost four times the size of Paris was razed in April alone.

According to Brazil’s space research agency this is an increase of 64 per cent from April of 2019. 

From January to April, during which coronavirus ravaged the world, a total of 464 square miles (1,202 square kilometres) of forest — an area more than 20 times the size of Manhattan — was wiped out.

The level of deforestation so far this year marks a staggering 55 per cent compared to the first four months of 2019.

Deforestation of the Amazon has soared in recent months as South America battles the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Last month, an area almost four times the size of Paris was destroyed as 156 square miles (405 square km) of rainforest wilderness was razed. 

According to Brazil’s space research agency this is an increase of 64 per cent from April of 2019. 

From January to April, during which coronavirus rampaged around the world, a total of 464 square miles (1,202 square kilometres) of forest — an area more than 20 times the size of Manhattan — was wiped out.

The level of deforestation so far this year marks a staggering 55 per cent compared to the first four months of 2019.

The majority, around 60 per cent, of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, the biggest county in South America. 

It is also the epicentre of the Latin American COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 10,000 deaths already recorded in the country. 

Neighbouring Bolivia’s primary forests were decimated by the fires of 2019 and consequently lost a record-breaking 290,000 hectares of primary forest.  

Bolivia’s fires inflicted 80 per cent more tree cover loss than in any other year in recorded history. 

Behind Brazil as the worst offending nations for deforestation were the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Indonesia.  

The DRC saw its losses fall slightly to 475,000 hectares, still the third-highest year on record for the African nation, the data showed.

The figure for Indonesia remained at historically low levels for the third year in a row at 324,000 hectares, a five per cent reduction in losses from 2018.

Australia’s wildfires saw it experience a 560 per cent jump in tree cover loss from 2018. This, unsurprisingly, made 2019 the country’s worst year on record. 

Tougher law enforcement to prevent forest fires and land clearing, and bans on forest-clearing and new oil-palm concessions all helped, said Arief Wijaya, forests and climate manager at think-tank World Resources Institute Indonesia.

‘I would (now) like to see the government not only trying to reduce deforestation but reverse deforestation,’ Wijaya said.

As the Southeast Asian nation battles the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that funds set aside for forest protection and restoration are not reallocated to help the wider economy and healthcare system, he added.

In total, the tropics lost 11.9 million hectares of tree cover – which includes all natural forests and tree plantations – in 2019, according to the GFW data.

‘There has been so much international effort to try and slow or stop tropical deforestation, and the fact that we’re not seeing the numbers budge at a global level is something we are quite concerned about,’ said Weisse.

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