Deforestation and Forest Degradation

updated January 2017

The far-reaching importance of tropical forests, from stabilising regional climate to underpinning rural economies, has not protected them from rapacious deforestation. According to the Global Forest Watch satellite-based monitoring system, tropical countries lost 9.9 million hectares of forest in 2014, an area the size of South Korea.

This overall trend in tropical deforestation remains immensely sensitive to fickle political developments in the three major rainforest countries, Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Brazil and Indonesia together accounted for 38% of the global loss of tropical forest cover in 2014 and DRC a further 10%. All three countries recorded a significant increase in 2014, reversing the trend of previous years. In Brazil, this disappointing trend has continued into 2015 and 2016 as a new government lifts regulations for land use, apparently content to scramble a decade of progress. The country is home to 40% of the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world.

In the DRC, as in Africa generally, the rate of deforestation has been relatively modest due to inaccessibility and political risk. But the country embraces about 50% of the vast Congo basin rainforest and is increasingly vulnerable as it opens up to foreign investment.

The rising global trend for deforestation is a major disappointment after a generation of environmental activism to protect the forests. For the purpose of its statistics, the FAO defines deforestation as the complete conversion of an area of forest to a different land use. It considers land to be forest if it has minimum canopy cover of 10% and “the absence of other predominant land uses.”

However, reports submitted by individual countries do not necessarily follow this approach and the quality of data is notoriously suspect in the forest sector. The advance of satellite technology, such as Global Forest Watch,  is proving invaluable in this regard.

Forest degradation is the term which expresses less drastic loss of forest cover. Where industrial logging is selective in its approach, it may be assessed as forest degradation.

In temperate regions of the world, forest cover is increasing. Deforestation is countered by extensive programmes of replanting and forest regeneration, especially in China, India and Vietnam.


Tropical Forests Declining in Overlooked Hotspots – new satellite analysis for 2014 from the Global Forest Watch partnership
from World Resources Institute

Monitoring Forests in Near Real Time – satellite technology deployed by Global Forest Watch has transformed our ability to track deforestation
from World Resources Institute

more Forests briefings
Importance of Tropical Forests
Tropical Forests and Climate Change
Causes of Deforestation
Sustainable Development Goal for Deforestation
Consumer Solutions to Deforestation
Rights-based Solutions to Deforestation
Market-based Solutions to Deforestation
Source material and useful links

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