Humans have destroyed or damaged two-thirds of the rainforest that originally covered the Earth's surface, according to a new analysis by the non-governmental organization Rainforest Foundation Norway, which means an alarm for the rapid disappearance of this natural shield against climate change.
Habitat and land conversion into arable land have wiped out 34% of the original rainforest and damaged at least another 30%, making it more vulnerable to future fires and decay.
More than half of the devastation that has occurred since 2002 is in the Amazon Jungle and neighboring rainforests.
The more tropical forests are destroyed, the more factors that contribute to climate change are made more difficult, which makes it more difficult for the remaining tropical forests to survive, says study author Anders Krogh.
“It's a scary cycle,” the researcher said, adding that the total area lost between 2002 and 2019 was larger than France.
An area of rainforest equal to a soccer field is destroyed every 6 seconds, according to a recent study by the World Resources Institute.
The Brazilian section of the Amazon has come under enormous pressure in recent decades, as an agricultural boom has brought farmers and speculators to the area to cut down soybeans, raise cattle and other crops. The trend has worsened since 2019 and the coming to power of President Bolsonaro with the weakening of compliance with environmental rules.
But the Amazon rainforest is the greatest hope for rescuing the remaining tropical forests. The Amazon rainforest and its neighboring forests, the Orinoco and the Andean rainforest, account for 73.5% of the rainforest that remains intact, according to Anders Krogh.
The rainforests of Southeast Asia, most of which belong to Indonesia, have been declining for the second time since 2002 – large parts of them have been given to palm trees.
Central Africa comes in third, with most of the disaster centered on the Congo River plain, due to agriculture and housing.
The forests mentioned in the study as degraded have either been partially destroyed or have been destroyed and replaced by secondary forest development, explains the Rainforest Foundation Norway.
The definition of untouched rainforest may be too harsh, warns Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of MapBiomas, a Brazilian initiative to map deforestation in Brazil. The study includes as untouched only areas of at least 500 square kilometers, not including smaller areas that can be added to the area of virgin forests of the world.
Anders Krogh explains that his definition was chosen because of the fact that smaller forest areas are at risk due to the “edge effect” (edge effect), as trees die faster and biodiversity is more difficult to maintain on forest edges. A 500-square-kilometer forest could well ensure the sustainability of its ecosystem, he says.