Emissions generated by tropical forest loss have doubled in the last two decades and are continuing to increase, according to resarch

Carbon emissions driven by the destruction of tropical forests have doubled over the last 20 years and are continuing to accelerate, according to a study which has warned of the failure of existing strategies to halt deforestation.

The research, published yesterday in journal Nature Sustainability, claims the rate of carbon loss from forest conversion in the tropics is much more acute than set out in other recent analyses, such as the Global Carbon Budget 2021 report, which highlighted a slight decline in land use emissions since 2000.

By tapping different types of high-resolution datasets, the researchers calculated there was a doubling of gross tropical forest carbon loss worldwide between the periods of 2001-2005 and 2015-2019.

The paper, which was led by academics at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, warns expansion of agricultural frontiers and pursuit of commodities are the major drivers of carbon emissions generated by forest loss around the world, with 80 per cent of deforestation associated with these activities.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, and Brazil recorded the largest acceleration in forest loss from 2001 to 2020, according to the analysis, with the South American country “far exceeding losses in any other country” over the 19 year period surveyed due to its ongoing clearance of the Amazon Rainforest and other forest ecosystems. The research also found that roughly a fifth of land clearing in the tropics took place in mountainous regions, which boast relatively high carbon stocks.

The researchers said the findings highlighted the weakness of existing efforts to tackle deforestation, and said monitoring deforestation trends would be critical in the wake of the latest wave of multinational pledges on deforestation.

At COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, more than 142 countries, which accounted for more than 90 per cent of the world’s forests, committed to halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

The declaration came seven years after the New York Declaration on Forests saw 39 countries accounting for 40 per cent of both global tree cover and primary tropical forests pledge to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030. The coalition missed its 2020 goal by a large margin.

Companies, too, have struggled to meet their deforestation goals over the years. Not a single company that signed a declaration organised by the Consumer Goods Forum in 2010 to achieve net zero deforestation in their supply chains by 2020 achieved their goal.

The latest worrying report comes in the same week as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major new update on climate impacts, warning that impacts are happening faster and proving more severe than previously thought. Echoing the latest findings on deforestation rates, the IPCC report warned there was mounting evidence that natural carbon sinks were being rapidly eroded and some were becoming net sources of greenhouse gas emissions as temperatures continue to rise.

Want to find out more about how the net zero transition will impact your business? You can now sign up to attend the virtual Net Zero Finance Summit, which will take place live and interactive on Tuesday 29 March and will be available on demand for delegates after the event.

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