The world lost 12 million hectares of tropical rainforest last year – an area the size of North Korea and the equivalent of 30 football pitches every minute, according to a new report.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” said Frances Seymour, senior fellow at the US-based World Resources Institute (WRI), which led the research based on an analysis of satellite imagery.
“The health of the planet is at stake and band aid responses are not enough. The world’s forests are now in the emergency room.”
The global destruction of tree cover includes around 3.6 million hectares of primary rainforest – older, untouched trees that absorb more carbon and are harder to replace – covering an area the size of Belgium.
The Global Forest Watch report suggested that most of Brazil’s loss last year was down to “cutting in the Amazon” by illegal loggers and militias, which threatened the survival of nearby “uncontacted” indigenous tribes.
It came as Brazil’s federal police revealed they had uncovered a scheme to illegally harvest timber in the Amazon region. The criminal conspiracy is said to involve state environmental agency officers and forest engineers.
“Forests are our greatest defence against climate change and biodiversity loss, but deforestation is getting worse,” said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK.
“Bold action is needed to tackle this global crisis including restoring lost forests. But unless we stop them being destroyed in the first place, we’re just chasing our tail.”
However there was some improvement in Indonesia, where government policies on protected forests appeared to have resulted in tree cover losses dropping to their lowest rate since 2003.
Much of the deforestation in that country is blamed on land clearance for oil-palm plantations.
Last year’s total loss of 12 million hectares was the fourth-highest since records began in 2001 but was lower than 2016 and 2017 when losses peaked largely due to forest fires.
Additional reporting by Reuters