The world lost 12 million hectares of rainforests in 2018, the equivalent of Nicaragua’s territory, according to the environmental NGO World Resources Institute (WRI). The year 2018 was the worst quarter in terms of tropical deforestation, then the years 2016, 2017 and 2014, since the WRI began his cartography in 2001, said the annual report by Global Forest Watch project, based on data compiled by the University of Maryland from satellite imagery analysis.
“It is tempting to welcome a second year of decline after the peak of 2016” with 17 million hectares of losses, said Frances Seymour, a WRI researcher. “But if we look at the last 18 years, it is clear that the overall trend is still increasing,” he said.
Of the 12 million hectares lost, 3.64 million hectares are of primary tropical forests, also called native forests or virgins, the equivalent of the territory of Belgium. Brazil was the country that lost the largest area of these forests last year (more than 1.4 million hectares), ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo (481.2 thousand hectares) and Indonesia (339.8 thousand hectares) . According to the WRI, the loss of native forest in Brazil in 2018 was lower than its peak, related to fires in 2016 and 2017, but higher than it was between 2007 and 2015, when the country had reduced its rate of deforestation in 70%.
The loss of virgin forests is “especially worrisome,” according to the NGO. “These are the forests that have the greatest impact in terms of carbon emissions and biodiversity,” said a WRI expert, Mikaela Weisse, as they store carbon and shelter large fauna and flora. The rate of destruction of native forests is also of concern in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, it declined 63% in Indonesia compared to the peak of 2016, according to the study.
Indonesia has benefited from relatively humid government measures and two years, unfavorable to the outbreak of fires, but the El Niño phenomenon may change the situation in 2019. The situation may worsen in Brazil, according to the Imazon non-governmental organization, because deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 54% between January 2018 and January 2019, but also due to the change in environmental policies advocated by President Jair Bolsonaro.
According to Global Forest Watch, it is still too early to assess the impact of any Bolsonaro government measures on Brazilian forest cover. In neighboring Colombia, the loss of native forests has increased by 9 percent between 2017 and 2018, as the peace agreement between the government and the FARC has helped make some areas more accessible, says the study. “Deforestation causes more climate pollution than all the cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world combined,” said Glenn Hurowitz, chief executive of Mighty Earth, an environmental organization. “It is vital to protect the forests we still have.”