Destruction of tropical rainforest increased by 10 per cent

Last year, the destruction of tropical rainforests increased by 10 per cent compared to 2021, according to data from Global Forest Watch. An area the size of the Netherlands was lost worldwide, with the Amazon region being particularly affected. Without halting deforestation, we cannot solve the climate and biodiversity crises.

Headerfoto: Protestbord op boom © AFIEGO

Forests provide a multitude of crucial ecosystem services to humans and nature, such as climate regulation, biodiversity, food security, health, and water supply. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them a key ally in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

The loss of tropical primary forests in 2022 amounted to a total of 4.1 million hectares, equivalent to the loss of 11 football fields of forest per minute. This forest loss resulted in 2.7 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 emissions, equivalent to India’s annual emissions.

Ending deforestation by 2030

At the 2021 Climate Summit in Glasgow (COP26), more than a hundred countries, including the Netherlands and countries with a significant number of tropical rainforests, pledged to end deforestation by 2030. However, the trend is moving in the opposite direction, as shown by Global Forest Watch[1]Global Forest Watch is an initiative of the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the US University of Maryland that maps deforestation and other forest loss annually based on advanced satellite data..

The majority of forest loss occurred in Brazil (15% increase in 2022 compared to 2021), which can be attributed to the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, who took minimal action against illegal logging during his presidency. It is expected that the new president, Lula, will reverse this trend and work towards ending deforestation in Brazil by 2030.

Half a million hectares of forest cleared in Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), deforestation continues to increase slightly. The country lost over half a million hectares of primary forest in 2022. Reducing the loss of primary forests in the region remains a challenge. The main causes of forest disappearance in the countries of the Congo Basin are primarily small-scale agriculture and charcoal production. Many residents of the DRC live in poverty and have limited access to electricity. In the DRC, IUCN NL is working with partner organizations to protect the country’s forests from illegal logging and improve security.

Increasing deforestation in Bolivia

Deforestation has also significantly increased in Bolivia, by 32%. Although Bolivia has less than half the amount of primary forest compared to Indonesia, it ranks higher on the list of forest loss.

Despite these alarming figures, there is relatively little attention given to deforestation in Bolivia. The country is one of the few that did not sign the pledge to halt deforestation during the climate summit in Glasgow.

Deforestation for soy production

Agriculture for agro-commodity crops is the primary cause of forest loss in Bolivia. The increase in soybean cultivation has led to nearly a million hectares of deforestation since the turn of the century. The Bolivian government actually encourages this increase in agriculture. They aim to reduce imports, produce biofuels, and increase livestock production. To achieve these goals, illegal deforestation is decriminalised, and more permits are issued for deforestation.

European countries, including the Netherlands, are major importers of soy-based animal feed, often sourced from countries with significant tropical forests. IUCN NL is the initiator of the Dutch Soy Platform, a multi-stakeholder platform of government, businesses, and civil society organizations working towards a transition to 100% responsible, conversion-free soy in the Dutch value chain, also beyond what is found on our supermarket shelves.

Cocoa and mining in Ghana

In Ghana, the loss of primary forest has increased the most in recent years. In 2022, the country lost 18,000 hectares of primary forest, and although this area is relatively small, Ghana has very little forest left and had the highest loss percentage among all tropical countries in 2022. According to Global Forest Watch, a portion of the forest loss is linked to cocoa production and forest fires.

Mining is also a significant cause of deforestation in Ghana. Gold mining is the largest industry in the country, but other resources such as bauxite and manganese, which are used for the energy transition, are also extracted. There are plans for bauxite mining in the Atewa Forest, which would have disastrous consequences for the rich biodiversity and ecosystem services it provides. Therefore, IUCN NL is working with A Rocha Ghana to ensure the long-term protection of the Atewa Forest.

Indonesia reduces loss of primary forest

But there is also good news according to GFW: Indonesia has managed to reduce the loss of primary forest more than any other country in recent years, by 64%. The government has implemented measures for fire prevention and monitoring, banned new palm oil logging permits, restored mangroves, and improved law enforcement. As a result, there have been fewer fires and less loss of primary forest in recent years. This demonstrates that effective policies and enforcement against deforestation can make a difference.

Furthermore, the Indonesian government has introduced a social forestry program that grants forest management rights to communities for a period of 35 years. The program aims not only to protect forests but also to improve the well-being of forest-dependent communities. IUCN NL’s partner organisation, WARSI, educates communities on how to benefit from the social forestry program.

Nevertheless, large-scale illegal deforestation is still tolerated in Indonesia. Recently, the government announced that it is granting amnesty to companies that have collectively established 3.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations in forest areas. The amnesty programme means that illegal practices, such as deforestation, are being tolerated. Deals are struck in backroom deals that pardon law-breaking companies and sap the funds of the political elite.

Forests for a Just Future programme

IUCN NL contributes to more sustainable and inclusive management of tropical rainforests, in a way that promotes climate mitigation & adaptation, human rights and preserving the livelihoods of local communities. We do this in the Forests for a Just Future programme.

IUCN NL contributes to more sustainable and inclusive management of tropical forests that supports climate mitigation and adaptation, human rights, and the livelihoods of local communities. This is done through the Forests for a Just Future program.

Together with civil society organisations, Indigenous Peoples and local communities this alliance works in 11 countries in South America, Africa and Asia in landscapes where forests and the communities who have traditionally lived there are threatened by the expansion of agriculture (e.g. palm oil, soy), infrastructure, mining and oil and gas extraction, where there are opportunities to influence policy and practices.

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Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future


1 Global Forest Watch is an initiative of the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the US University of Maryland that maps deforestation and other forest loss annually based on advanced satellite data.