Deforestation Effects: A Global Issue

Natural disasters, increased greenhouse effect, disappearance of biodiversity are just some of the catastrophic consequences

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By Max Bender

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Deforestation is an often overlooked problem that has significant consequences for biodiversity, climate change, and global environmental stability. Every year, a whopping 4.7 million hectares of forests are lost worldwide, equivalent to an area of 4.18 million square kilometers, roughly half the size of the European Union.

The consequences of this massive deforestation are diverse and severe, impacting factors such as the greenhouse effect, global warming, and biodiversity. All these elements directly influence the environment and, consequently, the lives of humans and all living beings.

What is Deforestation?

Deforestation is the rapid and extensive felling of plants and trees in an area, surpassing the natural capacity for regrowth. It is carried out by humans to clear land for agriculture or construction purposes.

This practice has severe consequences on the planet, leading to the loss of fertile soil and progressive desertification. Additionally, it alters entire ecosystems and significantly affects the climate, exacerbating global warming.

Most Affected Areas by Deforestation

When deforestation is mentioned, the Amazon rainforest often comes to mind. However, the issue affects various countries and continents, including Colombia, China, Congo, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Myanmar, Mexico, and Thailand. More than 70% of global deforestation occurs in these nations.

The most affected areas by deforestation are typically regions with dense forest cover, such as tropical rainforests in the Amazon Basin, Southeast Asia, and Central Africa. These areas experience high rates of deforestation due to various factors, including agricultural expansion, logging, infrastructure development, and urbanization pressures.

Causes of Deforestation

The primary causes of these reckless activities are commercial purposes:

  • Clearing land for agriculture and livestock grazing
  • Obtaining timber for fuel
  • Mining purposes
  • Extracting valuable wood
  • Construction for building infrastructure, often for tourism
  • Monoculture farming

Consequences of Deforestation

Deforestation has several negative consequences on the environment, which then impact human life and living beings in general:

  • Contributes to the greenhouse effect by increasing CO2 emissions, exacerbating global warming
  • Loss of biodiversity, leading to the extinction of numerous animal and plant species and disrupting ecosystems
  • Destruction of entire ecosystems
  • Climate change and extreme weather events
  • Increased risk of hydrogeological disasters
  • Desertification of arid areas
  • Landslides and erosion in hilly and rainy areas
  • Reduced natural evaporation
  • Decreased precipitation and atmospheric humidity
  • Loss of livelihoods for local economies
  • Elimination of significant landscape components

How Deforestation Affects Climate Change

Deforestation significantly contributes to climate change through its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, alterations in local and global climate patterns, and disruptions to the carbon cycle. Trees act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and storing it in their biomass. When forests are cleared or degraded, this stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere as CO2, exacerbating the greenhouse effect and contributing to global warming.

Moreover, deforestation reduces the overall capacity of ecosystems to sequester carbon, leading to a net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. This increase in greenhouse gases amplifies the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the atmosphere and leading to rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and more frequent and severe weather events.

Furthermore, deforestation disrupts local and regional climate patterns by altering surface albedo, evapotranspiration rates, and atmospheric moisture levels. These changes can lead to shifts in temperature and rainfall patterns, affecting both local ecosystems and global climate systems. In essence, deforestation is a significant driver of climate change, highlighting the critical importance of forest conservation and sustainable land management practices for mitigating its adverse effects.

Current Deforestation Situation

Despite occupying 4 billion hectares of forest, our planet is under threat from accelerating deforestation activities. Every year, 4.7 million hectares of forests are lost worldwide.

According to data from the Global Forest Watch platform by the World Resource Institute, in 2022, 4.1 million hectares of tropical rainforest were destroyed globally. To provide an indicative idea, this area is equivalent to the size of the Netherlands. The largest losses occurred in Brazil (43% of the total), followed by Congo and Bolivia. Globally, there was a 10% increase in destruction compared to the previous year (2021).

Combating Deforestation

Addressing deforestation demands a unified global approach, given its far-reaching implications. Governments play a pivotal role in curbing the economic incentives that fuel deforestation. This involves enacting policies that prioritize conservation over short-term gains and regulating industries known for rampant clearing of forested areas.

Together with regulatory measures, promoting sustainable agricultural practices is paramount. Encouraging farmers to adopt practices like agroforestry, which integrates trees into agricultural landscapes, can help mitigate deforestation while supporting livelihoods. Additionally, implementing crop rotation systems reduces the need for extensive land clearing, preserving existing forest cover.

Furthermore, safeguarding forest ecosystems requires proactive measures such as the establishment of protected areas and the enforcement of anti-logging laws. Governments must work collaboratively to promote the expansion of planned forest ecosystems, ensuring the preservation of biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide.

Immediate reforestation efforts are also essential to counteract the damage caused by deforestation. Planting native tree species in cleared areas helps restore lost habitats and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

By addressing the economic drivers of deforestation, promoting sustainable land use practices, and investing in reforestation initiatives, nations can collectively combat deforestation and safeguard the planet’s invaluable forest resources for future generations.

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Deforestation: a global issue that needs a joint approach

The Glasgow Declaration on Forests

At last year’s 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, 110 nations pledged £15 billion to combat deforestation aiming to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

Will they be able to keep their commitment? We hope so! However, the agreement lacks a set roadmap to achieve this goal and does not include sanctions for non-compliance.

Other Political Commitments

In 2014, during the UN Climate Summit in New York, an agreement was signed to halt tree felling by 2030 and restore over 350 million hectares of forests and farmland.

Deforestation Consequences in the Amazon Rainforest

Deforestation in the Amazon refers to the ongoing process of clearing forested areas in the Brazilian basin:

  • Intensive livestock farming (80%)
  • Agricultural expansion for soybean cultivation and palm oil production
  • Mining
  • Timber industry

The destruction of the forest is monitored by two agencies:

  • INPE (National Institute for Space Research), a public entity
  • IMAZON (Amazon Institute of People and the Environment), an independent NGO

What You Can Do to Combat Amazon Deforestation

Here are some practical steps everyone can take to preserve forests, especially the Amazon:

  • Avoid products containing palm oil.
  • Support local produce and search for seasonal products.
  • Cultivate your own garden.
  • Make homemade cleaners and detergents.
  • Minimize plastic usage.
  • Use recycled paper.
  • Reduce food waste.
  • Choose clothing made from eco-friendly fabrics.
  • Participate in beach clean-ups and environmental volunteer projects.

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