Pledges to reduce deforestation from global corporations and governments have dramatically increased in the past two years, but actual progress remains to be seen with deforestation rates still higher than they were a decade ago. In 2018the planet lost an area of primary rainforest the size of Belguim, and in August 2019 we have all watched the Amazon burning. Our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate which threatens our very existence as the diversity of wildlife and plants needed to survive is diminishing.
Forests are a proven tool in the fight to prevent climate breakdown. Trees are the most reliable and cost-efficient form of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it. Recent studies demonstrate that nature is able to provide us with one third of the emission reductions needed to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees. It is now becoming increasingly obvious that we must invest in protecting forest landscapes if we are to have a chance of meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Below are 10 facts on deforestation and the impact it has on the environment and both local and global communities.
1. It is estimated that the world loses approx. 15 billion trees each year
2. The causes of deforestation differ from country to country. In developing countries, like Tanzania, the main driver of deforestation is shifting agriculture contributing up to 80% of the country’s deforestation. Methods to clear forests for farming, such as ‘slash and burn’, degrade the soil and little is done to replenish the lost nutrients. When the land stops producing, the farmers move on in search of more forest to convert to farmland, continuing the cycle of destruction.
3. When forests are cleared, soil erosion occurs as rain washes away topsoil and its vital nutrients. Heavy soil erosion can be seen across Tanzania and other parts of Africa, eventually rendering the land unusable and increasing the possibility of severe flooding with the potential to destroy homes and livelihoods.
4. Loss of forests can have dire consequences for the indigenous communities who have inhabited the forest for hundreds or thousands of years. The livelihoods, belief systems and culture of indigenous and forest communities are intrinsically linked to the forest and when a forest is lost so too are livelihoods and the very identity of the indigenous people who live there.
5. Mature forests rejuvenate naturally with 1 tree dispersing thousands of seeds in its lifetime. Manually planting trees using a limited number of species to create or replace a forest often sees survival rates of just 15% and does not lead to the creation of a complete, integrated and complex natural ecosystem.
6. Forests are one of our best natural defences against climate change due to their capacity to store large quantities of carbon dioxide. Deforestation results in this stored carbon being released into the atmosphere. As the rate of deforestation globally accelerates we risk edging closer to the point where our key arsenal in the fight against climate change is no longer a carbon sink but a carbon source.
7. Only mature trees store significant amounts of carbon, and forests with a high diversity of tree and plant species have the added benefit of providing habitat for wildlife and completing the ecosystem. Therefore, to genuinely tackle climate change we need to protect existing forest from deforestation rather than focusing solely on trying to replant and recreate ecosystems we have already lost.
8. Deforestation currently accounts for approx. 15-20% of the world’s carbon emissions. However, in developing countries this figure is often closer to 70% of the country’s entire emissions.
9. With deforestation accounting for such a large percentage of the world’s emissions, stopping it is a critical piece of the climate solution. Preventing the destruction of forests will both reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere and allow us to sequester some of the carbon in our overcrowded atmosphere.
10. Nature can provide 1/3 of the solution to the crises we face in tackling climate change in an efficient, cost effective way without having to trial any unproven technology. Research from The Nature Conservancy and WRI shows that halting deforestation has more potential to tackle the climate crisis than taking every single car off the road.
How you can help stop the Destruction
While these facts are alarming and disheartening, it is not too late to act and there are many ways in which you can help slow deforestation both locally and on a global scale.
a. You can start in your home by looking at the products you buy and refrain from purchasing products that have not committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chain. While progress still needs to be made, brands like Nestle, Marks & Spencer and Unilever have all committed to moving towards a deforestation free supply chain.
b. If you are looking to act on a more global scale, then support a conservation project that protects existing forests.
c. Support forest communities in protecting their forest. Indigenous people occupy approximately one quarter of the world’s land surface containing approximately 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Deforestation rates are lower in areas managed by indigenous communities.
d. Offset your unavoidable emissions with carbon offsets generated from avoided deforestation projects, also known as REDD. These projects generate carbon offsets when they protect threatened forests from deforestation. One forest carbon offset represents the avoidance of one tonne of stored carbon from being released into the atmosphere through deforestation.
Carbon Tanzania works with communities seeking to protect their forests. By creating land use plans and village by-laws the communities are able to protect their forests from migrants looking to convert their forest to farmland. The projects generate certified carbon offsets which brings an additional form of revenue into the community and ensure the trees have greater value standing than cut down.
The Hadza hunter-gatherers have lived in the Yaeda Valley, Tanzania, for thousands of years. Following a landmark agreement that granted the Hadza legal title over their ancestral land they were able to protect their forests by developing a REDD project. Following the first 5 year certification period the project won the 2019 Equator Prize which recognises outstanding examples of local, nature based solutions to climate change.
The Masai in Makame have developed land use plans that closely follow their traditional grazing patterns known as Ronjo. They are now protecting 104,000 ha of wildlife rich forests home to endangered elephants, wild dogs, lion, leopard, giraffe, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-backed Vulture and Ruppells Griffon Vulture.
Eight villages in the Ntakata Mountains have created village forest reserves to protect 216,000 ha of forest. These forest reserves connect to a larger landscape providing the endangered eastern chimps with vast areas of intact habitat.
For every company destroying forests to make a profit there are communities fighting back. You can support these communities and further advance their cause by offsetting your emissions.
You can learn more about our approach to forest conservation here or contact one of our experts.