Over the past year, the speed with which the primeval forest disappears has increased considerably. A report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the University of Maryland shows that in 2020 a piece of primeval forest the size of the Netherlands disappeared: 42,000 square kilometers.
It is the second year in a row that the speed with which the primeval forest disappears increases. The researchers are very concerned about the disappearance of primeval forest: wild vegetation that has never been cut down before, and in which a lot of CO2 is stored.
“ In a year when the global economy shrunk by 3 to 4 percent, we see forest cover declining by 12 percent,” says Frances Seymour of the WRI. “We are afraid that countries will restore their economies at the expense of forests.”
In Latin America, forest cover is declining sharply. Five countries in the top 10 are in South America, with Brazil as a clear leader. More than 1.7 million hectares of forest disappeared there, mainly from the Amazon rainforest. It is striking that even in the Pantanal swamp area, near the border with Bolivia, the forest cover decreased six times as fast as in previous years.
Yet there are also bright spots, such as in Southeast Asia: Indonesia and Malaysia see the disturbance of primeval forest for palm oil plantations declining dramatically. The report ascribes this to better regulation on plantations, local initiatives and pressure from the private sector.
Arjen Vrielink of Satelligence, who supervises palm plantations for the private sector, recognizes the combination. “The regulation was already there, but corporate self-control is new. The consumer no longer wants unsustainable palm oil, so the producer adapts.”
It is striking that the same companies that are also active in South America do not comply with rules. According to Vrielink, this is because leaders like Brazilian President Bolsonaro do not discourage the logging of forest. “You do not have enough consumer pressure. It must also be maintained.”
According to the WRI, the figures do not yet show a clear link between corona and forest disturbance. However, there is a fear that the pandemic causes many people to move back to the countryside and burn forest for agriculture. “We are afraid that next year we will see a big increase,” says Seymour of the WRI.
According to the WRI, the most important explanation for the increase is the drier climate. Because the forests become drier, fires lit by people get out of control faster. This could be seen from the large amount of primeval forest that has been lost: large-scale fires are naturally very rare.
Because primal forests, peat and marsh areas retain a lot of CO2, the WRI is afraid that the natural fires in South America will eventually lead to more dehydration and thus more fires. “Think about it: the wetlands are on fire”, sighs Seymour of the WRI.
Seymour sees the profits achieved in Indonesia and Malaysia as an inspiration for problem areas such as Latin America. “We saw ten years ago that supervision and enforcement are also possible there. But now, unfortunately, we are back to that.”