The world lost close to four million hectares of tropical forest in 2019, at the rate of one football pitch every second, new data released Tuesday from Global Forest Watch said.
It was the third biggest forest loss this century – starting in the year 2000.
Global Forest Watch is an online platform that provides near-real-time data and tools for monitoring forests.
However, forest loss declined for Nigeria and West Africa between 2018 and 2019, the report said.
The researchers who used satellites to monitor changes pointing out activities like agricultural expansion, wildfires, logging, mining and population growth to be the major causes of the global decline.
Apart from providing food and livelihood to many people in the world, forests help contain global warming since trees absorb greenhouse gas emissions that raise the earth’s temperature. Therefore, a decline has a negative effect on climate change.
The world suffered the biggest forest loss of this century in 2016 and 2017. In those two years, 6.3 million hectares and 5 million hectares disappeared respectively.
The top 10 countries that lost the most primary forest in 2019 were Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Bolivia, Peru, Malaysia, Colombia, Laos, Mexico, and Cambodia.
Three countries that made the list in 2018 but did better last year are Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Cameroon.
Brazil alone accounted for more than a third of all primary forest loss in 2019 at 1.36 million hectares, while DRC lost 475,000 hectares, the data showed. Most of DRC’s loss were in agriculture and large-scale commercial logging, mining and plantations, the experts said.
“Primary forest loss in the DRC’s protected areas increased slightly, especially in reserves and hunting areas that have fewer financial resources for enforcing protection than national parks do, as well as in the eastern part of the country where there is more population pressure from displaced persons and conflict,” said Mikaela Weisse, a project manager at the GFW forest monitoring service, which is operated by the World Resources Institute.
While central Africa lost more forest cover, West Africa, including Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria gained between 2018 and 2019, the report said.
The report mentioned Ghana and Ivory Coast specifically, saying they reduced primary forest loss by over 50 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year.
“A number of positive initiatives could be responsible, including REDD+ programs and pledges by both countries and major cocoa and chocolate companies to end deforestation,” Weisse wrote.
Ghana lost 5,820 hectares compared to 12,300 hectares in 2018.
Nigeria lost 12,200 hectares compared to 15,200 hectares in the previous year.
Between 2002 and 2019, Nigeria lost a cumulative 126,000 hectares of humid primary forest.
The report says between 2001 and 2019, the states responsible for most of all tree cover loss were Edo, Ondo, Cross River, Taraba and Ogun states.
Ms Weisse was later quoted by Reuters as urging governments around the world to protect forests in their post-coronavirus economic stimulus plans.
She said the virus may weaken enforcement of forest laws, with people taking advantage of that to commit environmental crimes, and economic stress could hike pressure for more extractive industries in forests or larger-scale agriculture.
Also, workers coming home from cities after losing jobs could also turn to forests to help feed their families, increasing the risk of deforestation, she said.