Deforestation & Conversion

DEFORESTATION & CONVERSION

Tackling deforestation and conversion is critical to the health of people, wildlife and the planet

The world’s forests currently cover 31% of the Earth’s surface, down from the approximately 50% they covered 8,000 years ago, while rangelands – land on which vegetation is predominantly grass, grass-like plants, forbs or shrubs – account for 54%. These ecosystems are essential to sustaining a livable climate, maintaining biodiversity and health, and as a source of subsistence for many humans.

The value of natural ecosystems

Global trends on deforestation and conversion show different realities

Despite the vital nature of the world’s natural ecosystems, their destruction and degradation continue at an alarming rate.

In the last two decades, every year on average, about 13 million hectares of forest were destroyed based on data published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and according to Global Forest Watch (GFW), every year on average 10 million hectares of forest loss was driven by agriculture. Most of this loss is in the tropics and sub-tropics. An area roughly twice the size of the UK has been lost to deforestation in just over a decade in the tropics and subtropics alone, according to WWF’s recently released report, Deforestation fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world. Seven key agricultural and forest commodities are the main cause of this decline.

Deforestation and conversion is uneven across geographies. Based on WWF analysis, more than half of total deforestation in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania has been concentrated in 24 deforestation fronts. Two-thirds of the forested area along these 24 fronts today is irreplaceable primary or intact forest. It includes the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, where 8% of the total surface has been converted between 2000 and 2018, or 51 million hectares, an area as large as Spain.

Between 2001 and 2020, 29 million hectares of the Cerrado biome, the largest savannah in Latin America, was converted – losing 15% of its total surface.

In the last two decades, every year on average, about 13 million hectares of forest were destroyed based on data published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and according to Global Forest Watch (GFW), every year on average 10 million hectares of forest loss was driven by agriculture. Most of this loss is in the tropics and sub-tropics. An area roughly twice the size of the UK has been lost to deforestation in just over a decade in the tropics and subtropics alone, according to WWF’s recently released report, Deforestation fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world. Seven key agricultural and forest commodities are the main cause of this decline.

Deforestation and conversion is uneven across geographies. Based on WWF analysis, more than half of total deforestation in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania has been concentrated in 24 deforestation fronts. Two-thirds of the forested area along these 24 fronts today is irreplaceable primary or intact forest. It includes the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, where 8% of the total surface has been converted between 2000 and 2018, or 51 million hectares, an area as large as Spain.

Between 2001 and 2020, 29 million hectares of the Cerrado biome, the largest savannah in Latin America, was converted – losing 15% of its total surface.

A few agricultural and forest commodities bear
outsized responsibility

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Photos and graphics © WWF or used with permission. Text is available under Creative Commons license.

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