Temperatures are going up as the trees are coming down

Environment Policy Brief #156 | By: Todd J. Broadman | July 12, 2023
Photo taken from: https://fox40.com/


Recognizing the significant role that healthy forests play in climate and biodiversity, 145 countries were represented last year in Glasgow, Scotland at the Declaration on Forests and Land Use. The resulting agreement aimed to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030. Of particular focus is the preservation of primary or first-growth forest; in 2022, on average 11 soccer fields of primary forest were destroyed each and every minute. That rate of destruction adversely impacts climate and biodiversity. With global demand for wood expected to grow by 54 percent between 2010 and 2050, it is highly unlikely that the Glasgow agreement will be met.

That demand is largely driven by agricultural commodities, fuel and timber products like woodchips, as well as paper and cardboard. Logging to meet that demand will cover an area roughly equivalent to clear-cutting the entire continental U.S. Among other functions, a healthy forest sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and produces sugar, and during the process of decay carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Throughout the U.S., 12% of carbon emissions are captured by forests.

Deforestation rates outside the U.S. continue to be alarming. Tropical primary forests are of particular concern, and four countries that are witnessing a rapid decline in forested acreage are: Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, and Bolivia. Within Brazil, the states of Amazonas and Acre saw record levels of primary forest loss last year. Amazonas state’s forest cover loss has doubled over the last three years. These industrial scale clearings do more than threaten biodiversity, they threaten people – the many indigenous tribes living there.


Policy Analysis


96% of all forest removal takes place in the tropics – the very forests needed most to aid in regulating climate. In Brazil, the rate of tropical primary forest loss increased by 15% from 2021 to 2022, the vast majority of that loss coming from the Amazon. There is good research to suggest that there is a tipping point in which the Amazon can become too dry due to lack of rainfall and turn into savanna. Throughout the tropics, the economic driver is commodities production.

Following Brazil in tropical forest destruction is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the DRC trees are cleared to make way for small-scale agriculture and charcoal production used for household energy needs. Over half of DRC’s population is deeply impoverished – 81% don’t have electricity. Another example of how socio-economic conditions intersect and directly determine habitat loss. To the west of DRC is Ghana, where forests are being cleared for added cocoa farms and related production, and this is in addition to gold mining activity. 

Bolivia saw a record-high increase in primary forest loss in 2022, almost a third more land laid bare than the year before. Even more than the country of Indonesia. Bolivia, not coincidently, was absent from the Glasgow agreement. Commodity production, yet again, is the driver there – soybean acreage.  Bolivia has lost nearly a million hectares of primary forest since the turn of the century, of which nearly a quarter can be attributed to Mennonite colonies, who have made a sizable footprint in South America raising commodities such as sugarcane, corn, sorghum and cattle, in addition to soybeans.

The World Resources Institute’s Rod Taylor asks, “are we on track to halt deforestation by 2030?” and answers, “the short answer is a simple no.” He and many other concerned observers see a trend. The United Nations has established a line in the sand, one of many that we see get washed away, for companies and financial institutions to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation by 2025. A 2022 analysis is sobering: in Brazil, over a recent three-year period, only 2% of illegal deforestation were subject to any penalty by federal law enforcement agencies. The President of Kenya, Wiliam Ruto, has removed the long-standing logging ban in that country; another invitation for further crucial habitat loss and corrupt Kenya Forest Service officials. “By lifting this ban, president Ruto has prioritized profit over people and nature,” said Greenpeace Africa’s Community Manager Tracy Makheti.

The desperation of the poor coupled with the sanctioned greed of the wealthy will continue to drive deforestation in the face of anger and protests, in the face of organizations like the U.N. that cannot enforce the very agreements they have labored so long to put in place. The major destinations for the commodities of palm oil, beef, leather, soy, rubber, and coffee, that arrive at the cost of primeval forest, are China, the European Union, and the United States. And like oil, there are no laws to prevent their continued importation.

Engagement Resources


  • https://www.wri.org/ The World Resources Institute works globally to meet people’s essential needs; to protect and restore nature; and to stabilize the climate and build more resilient communities.
  • https://maaproject.org/en/  The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) is a project of the conservation nonprofit Amazon Conservation Association and is at the forefront of the field of high-tech, real-time monitoring of deforestation.
  • https://www.clientearth.org/  Ingeniously uses the law to create systemic change, focusing on the most pressing environmental challenges.
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