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Deforestation: choking off the earth’s lungs

Ruby Russell
September 19, 2016

Humankind is destroying the planet’s forests, with devastating impacts on plants, animals, people and the climate. We present the key facts and figures – and invite you to share your thoughts.

Bildergalerie Virunga-Park Demokratische Republik Kongo
Image: WWF/Brent Stirton

Deforestation is one of the biggest threats facing our planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 31 percent of land on earth is covered by forest. But it’s under threat from logging for the timber trade, slashing and burning to free up land for agriculture, mining, encroachment by human habitation, wildfires and climate change.

Brasilien Entwaldung des Urwaldes
Ramsar forest, Iran: Forests cover 31 percent of the earth’s land, supporting different species around the worldImage: Arsalan

Around 50,000 square miles of forest are lost each year. That’s equivalent to around 48 football fields every minute. The world’s biggest forest, the Amazon, has shrunk by about 17 percent over the last 50 years.

Auswilderungscamps für Orang Utans in Indonesien
Brazil: The Amazon is under threat from logging, fires and miningImage: picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library/N. Gordon

The consequences of destroying so much forest so fast are severe and manifold. Forests are biodiversity hotspots. Around two thirds of the world’s land species live in forests. Often, we are unaware of what exactly we are wiping out because many of the world’s forests still teem with species that have yet to be indentified.

Iran Ramsar Wälder
Some of the world’s most iconic species – like the orangutan – can only be found in small pockets of forestImage: picture alliance/dpa

And it’s not just animals. An estimated 1.6 billion people rely on forests for basic necessities like food, fresh water, clothing, medicine and shelter. 350 million people live in forests – among them at least 60 million indigenous people. As their home is lost, so too are their cultures, and ways of life that have nurtured their environment for generations.

Bildergalerie Deutschland - Herbstwald im Nebel
Yasuni people, Ecuador: Felling forest threatens cultural as well as biological diversityImage: picture-alliance/wildlife

Deforestation also plays a deadly role in climate change. It accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And forests are essential to the regulation of water cycles and prevention of soil erosion.

Papua Ölpalmen Abholzung
The palm oil industry is a major driver of deforestation in IndonesiaImage: Aidenvironment

So what can we do? A recent report from WWF points to the palm oil industry as a key driver of deforestation in Indonesia, as well as other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Greenpeace says companies are “relentlessly converting forests into disposable products that end up in our shopping baskets,” and encourages consumers to avoid food, timber and paper products linked to deforestation.

Brasilien Amazona Regenwald Entwaldung
Forests are called the lungs of the planet, for the role they play in regulating the local and global climateImage: Thorsten Schier - Fotolia.com

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