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.
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 the earth's biodiversity and maintain its ecosystems.
#1- Forests provide habitats for 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species, and 68 percent of mammal species1
#2- An estimated 75 percent 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 transporting 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. Over one billion people live on/around forested land and depend on them for food, medicine, and shelter. As the world's tropical forests disappear, these people's ways of living are put in danger.
#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. According to the latest data from the Global Forest Watch, in 2021, we had 25.3Mha of global tree cover loss. Global primary forest loss in the tropics is equivalent to 10 football pitches a minute6.
While the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) estimates 18m acres of global deforestation or forest loss a year.
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 land clearing is contributing to deforestation at an alarming rate. We should not meet our growing demand for agricultural land with more land. It is a finite resource that the planet already uses for other vital needs.
Further, illegal deforestation continues to prove a problem in developing countries as people seek to clear trees for agriculture and to create livelihoods on the land. A study by ICV found in 2021 that as much as 94% of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon was likely illegal7.
#7- Forest area decreased from 32.5 percent to 30.8 percent 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 as a result of forest clearing. 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
#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 percent of the forests have been lost in the Guatemalan portion of the Selva Maya alone1
#13- In 2013, around 50 percent of illegal logging and timber in global trade came from Indonesia (and 25 percent from Brazil – two of the ten countries with the largest forest area)1
#14- Illegal charcoal trade in Somalia between 2011 and 2013 accounted for 24 000 tonnes of production and resulted in a 2.7 percent 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 percent of the global total, mostly due to fire3
#17- WWF estimates suggest that 27 percent of the Amazon biome will be without trees by 2030, 13 percent from new deforestation if the average deforestation rate for the last ten years for each country continues3
#18- About 12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions result from tropical deforestation5
Data from the World Resources Institute show that tropical rainforests and their trees provide around 23% of the climate mitigation required to offset climate change.
When we think of a tropical forest, we imagine far-away regions with nothing to do with our daily lives. But in reality, these tropical forests are keeping us alive. The Atlantic Forest and the Amazon Rainforest produce a significant amount of the world's oxygen and are collectively referred to as the lungs of the earth.
Tropical tree cover sequesters greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) that cause climate damage. In return, the trees in these forests give us oxygen.
With the problem of global tree canopy cover and tropical forest loss, we have fewer trees to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful gases. As deforestation occurs and the world continues to produce GHGs, climate change and global warming will be inevitable on a destructive level.
#19- More than 90 percent 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 deforestation - forests cleared and land stripped of trees for alternative uses. 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 percent of the world's population continues to breathe in polluted air. As such, clearing land and deforestation contributes to long-term effects of such exposure including respiratory diseases, nerve damage, organ damage, and lung cancer.
31% of recently emerging diseases are a result of forest loss according to the World Economic Forum.
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.
#20- Some 8 percent of assessed forest plants, 5 percent of forest animals, and 5 percent of fungi found in forests are currently listed as critically endangered1
Deforestation is a leading cause of different plant and animal species extinction. 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 of natural forest. Sharing a water source, e.g., a river, with marine animals and organisms may pollute the water. Some species adapt to these changes, while others may not. By simply building a road to run through forested land, we can disrupt the migration channel of animals that used it previously.
#21- The forest-specialist index, based on monitored populations of forest mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, fell by 53 percent between 1970 and 2014. An annual rate of decline of 1.7 per cent1
#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 percent 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 percent globally by 2030.
The forest loss data above shows 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 percent of the world's forest area. The remaining 7 per cent is composed of planted forests1
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. While planting new trees is a good initiative, it is simply not a solution to protect forwards from deforestation and holistic environmental degradation. And newly planted trees in the world's forests fully contribute to carbon dioxide sequestering decades after planting 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
#25- Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40 percent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 percent 1
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 requires millions of square miles of land globally. These square miles are the habitats of plants and animals that farmers will displace to make space for their production.
#26- Around 45% of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia came from areas that were forests in 19894
Palm oil is a byproduct of the oil palm native to West Africa. Since manufacturers realized the benefits of palm oil in making food and snack products, the cultivation of palm trees has exploded globally. The problem is that farmers are cutting down trees to clear land in forested areas to make room for profitable oil palm plantation growth and meet the demand of the global palm oil industry, in turn destroying forest ecosystems.
The high demand for palm oil specifically poses a threat to Southeast Asian forests.
#27- Globally, 18 percent of the world's primary forests, or more than 700 million hectares, fall within legally established protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas, and game reserves 1
Thankfully, regions worldwide are beginning to recognize the importance of policy-making in combating deforestation. Within the 18 percent of forested areas legally protected, plants and animals are mainly safe.
#28- The average rate of net forest loss declined by roughly 40 percent 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 deforestation rates and improvements across the forest sector. Further new tree plantations are cropping up as more money flows into climate mitigating initiatives.
#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 carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gas reductions, we expect two results. The first is that these regions should experience better air quality and climate conditions. Second, their results will guide research and policymaking in countries that wish to replicate their results and protect forests. Although sadly each forest lost can take years to grow back.
#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 percent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. By 2012 this had sunk to 6 per cent3
#32- Areas managed by indigenous peoples, currently approximately 28 percent 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 including indigenous communities and their management practices for their forested lands.
For example, forest fires are one cause of forest loss. 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 from 2010 to 20201
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.