Deforestation Facts

Deforestation Facts & Statistics

We all depend on forests for our survival. They provide the air we breathe, the wood we use, and protect much of the living organisms that make up our precious biodiversity. Yet, as the deforestation facts below show, we seem to be forgetting all these.

33 Deforestation Facts

Fighting Deforestation
Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Why Our Forests are Important

Much of our wildlife live within or close to forested areas. Forests provide food, shelter, and security to a host of plants, animals, and smaller organisms. And because they can live within proximity to one another, all these species continue to promote earth’s biodiversity and maintain its ecosystems.

#1- Forests provide habitats for 80 per cent of amphibian species, 75 per cent of bird species and 68 per cent of mammal species1

#2- An estimated 75 per cent of the world’s accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds

Beyond breathable air, forests also provide one resource that humans cannot go without; freshwater. Watersheds are generally areas where water flows across the land to feed into lakes, streams, and rivers. However, during this process on non-forested land, water quality is typically not affected.

Forested watersheds work in a whole better way. First, forests collect and store water (from rain and snow) better than dry land. The trees and soils serve as a natural filtration and delivery system that transport clean water into streams and rivers.

#3- Forests cover 31 per cent of the global land area1

#4- One-third of humanity has a close dependence on forests and their products1

#5- Worldwide, around 1 billion people depend to some extent on wild foods such as wild meat, edible insects, edible plant products, mushrooms and fish1

The biodiversity that we can find in forests includes humans. There are over one billion people who live on/around forested land and depend on them for food, medicine, and shelter. As forests disappear, these people’s ways of living are put in danger.

Deforestation Facts: The Numbers

Cleared Land
Image by Picography from Pixabay

#6- Since 1990, it is estimated that some 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses1

The facts show that human activities continue to define deforested land. We’re losing our forested land cover to development. As more people build houses, mine natural resources, start farms, and other activities, we turn to the ‘unused’ lands in forests to accommodate us.

Human expansion is a problem, and it is contributing to deforestation at an alarming rate. We should not meet our growing demand for land with more land. It is a finite resource which the planet already uses for other vital needs.

#7- Forest area decreased from 32.5 per cent to 30.8 per cent between 1990 and 2020; a net loss of 178 million hectares of forested lands, an area about the size of Libya1

#8- Global tree cover amounted to around 4.42 billion hectares in 1992 but had fallen to 4.37 billion hectares by 2015, a decrease of approximately 50 million hectares1

Among the notable differences in satellite imaging of our planet over time, is the decreasing appearance of tree cover. Around the world, our forests are shrinking.

#9- Africa had the highest net loss of forested area in 2010–2020, with a loss of 3.94 million hectares per year, followed by South America with 2.60 million hectares per year1

#10- Since 1990, Africa has reported an increase in the rate of net loss, while South America’s losses have decreased substantially1

Wood & Fuel

#11- One-third of woodfuel is still harvested unsustainably as a result of unregulated forest access1

In places where charcoal is in high demand, deforestation continues at an alarming rate. These include sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and South America. While there are sustainable methods of obtaining fuelwood, they do not entirely alleviate the pressure on trees as a resource. People, especially those living in poverty, still venture into forested land to harvest wood for their needs.

#12- Estimates indicate that in the past 25 years, approximately 38 per cent of the forests have been lost in the Guatemalan portion of the Selva Maya alone1

#13- In 2013 around 50 per cent of illegal timber in global trade came from Indonesia (although Indonesia and 25 per cent from Brazil – two of the ten countries with the largest forest area1

#14- Illegal charcoal trade in Somalia between 2011 and 2013 accounted for 24 000 tonnes of production and resulted in a 2.7 per cent loss of tree cover2

#15- According to Chinese customs data, rosewood imports from South East Asia increased 14-fold between 2019-2014, despite a ban on their trade[ref]

#16- From 2011 to 2013, Russia and Canada accounted for 6.8 million hectares of tree cover loss, 34 per cent of the global total, mostly due to fire3

#17- WWF estimates suggest that 27 per cent of the Amazon biome will be without trees by 2030, 13 per cent from new deforestation if the average deforestation rate for the last ten years for each country continues3

Deforestation and Climate Change

#18- About 12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions result from tropical deforestation5

When we think of tropical forests, we imagine far-away regions that have nothing to do with our daily lives. But in reality, these tropical forests are keeping us alive. Tropical forests sequester greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) that cause climate damage. In return, the trees in these forests give us oxygen.

With the problem of deforestation, we have fewer trees to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful gases. As deforestation continues and the world continues to produce GHGs, climate change, on a destructive level, will be inevitable.

#19- More than 90 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution exceeds WHO guideline limits[ref]

Much of the air pollution in our communities would not exist if we were not surrounded by deforested land. Every day, people drive cars, use buses and trains, burn wood fires, and engage in other activities that release smoke and greenhouse gases that pollute the environment. And since most residential areas are far away from forested lands, we do not have enough trees to sequester these emissions.

As a partial result of deforestation, 90 per cent of the world’s population continues to breathe in polluted air. The long term effects of such exposure include respiratory diseases, nerve damage, organ damage, and lung cancer.

Related: Check out our curated selection of the best climate change quotes to see what experts, politicians and advocates have to say about our need to act and our response to the climate crisis.

Deforestation and Biodiversity

Deforestation & Biodiversity
Photo by K8 on Unsplash

#20- Some 8 per cent of assessed forest plants, 5 per cent of forest animals and 5 per cent of fungi found in forests are currently listed as critically endangered1

Deforestation is a leading cause of the extinction of different plant and animal species. When we, humans, expand our land use, it’s easy to forget that we are encroaching on the habitat of other living things. And as bad as the loss of one species sounds, each loss has a significant impact on our entire biodiversity.

Habitat loss for these species does not only happen when we clear out the trees in an area. By simply building a road to run through forested land, we can disrupt the migration channel of animals that used it previously. Sharing a water source, e.g. a river, with marine animals and organisms may pollute the water for them. Some species adapt to these changes, while others may not.

#21- The forest-specialist index, based on monitored populations of forest mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds, fell by 53 per cent between 1970 and 2014. An annual rate of decline of 1.7 per cent1

Environmental Implications of Deforestation

#22- The world is not on track to meet the target of the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests to increase forest area by 3 per cent worldwide by 20301

The UN Strategic Plan for Forests is a set of (six) goals we need to accomplish to shift the tide on deforestation. In summary, these goals include sustainable forest cover management, enhancing forest-based benefits, increasing protected forested areas, mobilizing more financial resources, promoting governance frameworks, and strengthening global cooperation.

Since the UN defined these objectives in 2017, data collected by researchers show that the world is not on track to meet the end target. The target is to increase forested areas by 3 per cent globally by 2030. The facts above show that deforestation is still a largely unsolved problem in many regions. And although deforestation rates are falling in some regions (as some facts below will show), there’s still work to be done.

#23- Naturally regenerating forests account for 93 per cent of the world’s forest area. The remaining 7 per cent is composed of planted forests1

While planting new trees is a good initiative, it is simply not a solution to deforestation. It is important to note this because we gear many initiatives to protect the habitat of plant and animal species towards planting new trees and not preventing deforestation. And newly planted trees fully contribute to carbon dioxide sequestering decades after we plant them.

We must tackle the problem of deforestation mainly by allowing the naturally occurring biodiversity of our environment to thrive.

#24- The area of primary forest worldwide has decreased by over 80 million hectares since 19901

Deforestation and Agriculture

#25- Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40 per cent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 per cent1

Agriculture is a significant cause of deforestation. As the global population grows and the demand for food products increases. Commercial farmers are expanding into forested lands to increase their production. Take, for example, the meat industry. Animals raised for food need space and nourishment, which globally, requires millions of square miles of land. These square miles are the habitats of plants and animals that farmers will displace to make space for their production.

#26- Around 45% of oil palm plantations in Southeast Asia came from areas that were forests in 19894

Palm oil is a byproduct of the oil palm which is native to West Africa. Since manufacturers realized the benefits of palm oil in making food and snack products, cultivation of the palm tree has exploded globally. The problem with this is farmers are cutting down trees in forested lands to make room for profitable oil palm fields.

The high demand for palm oil specifically poses a threat to Southeast Asian forests.

Controlling Deforestation

#27- Globally, 18 per cent of the world’s forest area, or more than 700 million hectares, fall within legally established protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas and game reserves1

Thankfully, regions around the world are beginning to recognize the importance of policy-making towards combating deforestation. Within the 18 per cent of forested area legally protected, plants and animals are mainly safe.

#28- The average rate of net forest loss declined by roughly 40 per cent between 1990–2000 and 2010–2020 (from 7.84 million hectares per year to 4.74 million hectares per year)1

The global environmental awareness and policymaking efforts against deforestation seem to be working. The net loss of forested lands is on a decline. The facts below in this section show that many countries are reporting reduced rates in deforestation.

#29- As of January 2020, nine countries have reported 8.82 billion tonnes of emissions reductions due to reduced rates of deforestation and forest degradation 1

As more countries report reductions in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, we expect two results. The first is that these regions should experience better air quality and climate conditions. Second, their results will serve as guides during research and policymaking in countries that wish to replicate their results.

#30- Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year. Down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s1

#31- In 1990, emissions from deforestation were 25 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. By 2012 this had sunk to 6 per cent3

Indigenous Management

#32- Areas managed by indigenous peoples, currently approximately 28 per cent of the world’s land surface, include some of the most ecologically intact forests and many hotspots of biodiversity1

Indigenous people, native to different regions of the world, know how to manage the lands they live on. Unfortunately, some of their practices clash with local policies on land access. However, recent reports show that governments should be incorporating indigenous management practices for their forested lands.

For example, fire is one cause of deforestation. And recent conversations reveal that the Australian wildfires may not have been so catastrophic if the indigenous people were allowed to practice “cultural burns”.

#33- The net loss of forest area decreased from 7.8 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 4.7 million hectares per year during 2010–20201

2 Bolognesi, M., Vrieling, A., Rembold, F., Gadain, H. (2015). Rapid mapping and impact estimation of illegal charcoal production in southern Somalia based on WorldView-1 imagery. Energy for Sustainable Development. 25. 40-49. 10.1016/j.esd.2014.12.008.
5 Cargill (2017). Cargill Report on Forests. Building sustainable supply chains so the world can thrive
4 3Keel & LMC International For European Commission, DG Environment (2017). Study on the environmental impact of palm oil consumption and on existing sustainability standards
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