Global Forest Watch: deforestation reduced in some countries, increased in others

While in some countries deforestation rates are declining, overall global forest loss remains high, a new report by Global Forest Watch finds. As a result of changes in administration, forest loss have significantly decreased in Brazil and Colombia over the past year. However, frontiers of deforestation are shifting, and countries such as Bolivia and Laos experienced dramatic increases in forest loss. Overall, 3.7 million hectares of tropical primary forest was lost in 2023.

Header photo: Valle de Cocora, Colombia © Nicolas Pratlong via Unsplash

Positive signs from Brazil and Colombia

The cases of Brazil and Colombia show the significance of government policy for reducing deforestation. After years of environmentally destructive leadership under President Bolsonaro, Brazil is finally seeing a decrease in deforestation under President Lula, whose administration has been marked by the revoking of anti-environmental measures and the recognition of new Indigenous territories, among other things. Although forest loss remains higher than its low point in the early 2010s, these policies have had a massive positive impact on Brazil’s forests, with 39% less primary forest loss in 2023 compared to 2022.

Although deforestation heavily increased after Colombia’s peace agreement with FARC in 2016, recent years have shown a change. Under the leadership of President Gustavo Petro Urrego, who has been leading the country since 2022, there are signs that forest loss has started to decrease: in 2023 primary forest loss has declined with 49%, compared to 2022. Nevertheless, the surging global demand for commodities such as beef, palm oil, gold, and illicit crops continue to trigger deforestation and forest crime.

Observatorio Amazonia

IUCN NL works with the Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible (FCDS), Ambiente y Sociedad and news platform Mongabay to tackle forest crime and to improve the territorial rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities in the Colombian Amazon.

In 2023, FCDS launched the Observatorio Amazonia in response to the region’s pressing challenges. The surging demand for commodities not only threatens biodiversity, but also the way of life of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Often marginalised from decision-making processes and lacking access to crucial information and legal support, these communities find it extremely challenging to safeguard their rights and protect their environment and livelihoods.

As the battle for scarce land and resources intensifies, Amazon communities are disadvantaged. A clear understanding of their rights and legal avenues expands their ability to navigate socio-environmental conflicts. Moreover, the invisibility of these conflicts leads to a scarcity of comprehensive data, hindering efforts to address and prevent them effectively.

Recognising the situation’s urgency, the Observatorio Amazonia seeks to shine a light on overlooked socio-environmental conflicts. The objective of the Observatorio Amazonia is to make the socio-environmental conflicts that have gone unnoticed by the Colombian authorities and the international community visible. ‘We want to show what is behind deforestation. There are enormous conflictive situations associated with this great phenomenon and its main drivers, such as land grabbing, mining, roads and hydrocarbons, which now become visible,’ said Maryi Serrano, coordinator of territorial ordering and development planning at FCDS, in an article published in April 2023.

Indonesia: primary forest loss due to the mining of energy transition minerals

Despite an uptick in primary forest loss in 2023, overall forest loss in Indonesia has significantly decreased over the years compared to levels in the mid-2010s. Primary forest loss in Indonesia is largely due to fires, as well as clearings for agriculture and mining. As the demand for natural resources for the energy transition will increase, the pressure on forests by mining is expected to further increase.

In Sulawesi, for example, mining for nickel is threatening local and Indigenous communities and their forests. Nickel is a key mineral in rechargeable batteries notably for electric vehicles, and Indonesia is the largest producer of the mineral, as well as the country with the largest nickel reserves. In Sulawesi, mining for nickel is already leading to large-scale deforestation [1] ; … Continue reading and would come at the expense of the Tompotika rainforest, which is of great importance to over 75,000 people and is home to an enormous wealth of biodiversity. Our partner AlTo works with local communities to help them understand the risks of mining and what they can do to protect themselves and be engaged in decision making. AlTo also creates awareness among local government officials on the issues and threats of mining to inhabitants and biodiversity. The joint video by AlTo and IUCN NL “Tompotika: Forests, Nickel, and Critical Choices” proved a powerful instrument in this.

The energy transition is fuelling a growing global demand for minerals and metals and therefore a mining boom of unprecedented proportions. As 77% of all mines are located within a 50 km radius of important biodiversity areas [2]Extracted forests, WWF 2023, and over half of energy transition minerals are located on lands of Indigenous or rural communities, the energy transition runs the risk of harming biodiversity and already marginalised communities. IUCN NL works towards a just energy transition, that minimises negative impacts on people and biodiversity. We do this in our projects Forests for a Just Future and Bottom Line!.

Social forestry is a powerful tool in reducing deforestation rates, by increasing community ownership in forest management and providing income sources that do not lead to deforestation. In Indonesia, IUCN NL partner KKI Warsi supports communities in Sumatra in obtaining social forestry permits, whilst AlTo has also started the process in the Tompotika forest in Sulawesi.

High rates of forest loss in the Democratic Republic of the Congo persist

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is losing half a million hectares of primary rainforest each year. And while the rate in 2023 increased by only 3%, the continued small increases over many years are adding up. The fact that the Congo Basin, of which more than half is located in DRC, is the last major tropical forest that remains a carbon sink makes this continued loss even more concerning. The rate of primary forest loss was higher in the eastern part of DRC.

The main causes of forest disappearance in DRC are small-scale agriculture and charcoal production. Many residents of the DRC live in poverty and have limited access to electricity. IUCN NL works with partners in the east of DRC to prevent deforestation by expanding alternative farming techniques that work together with the forest instead of destroying it. A women’s group on the outskirts of Virunga National Park, for example, is inspiring farmers to use drought-resilient farming techniques. In the same region, our partner IDPE helped set up a beekeeping cooperative that offers communities an alternative and sustainable means of livelihoods.

The area in and around Virunga National Park is under pressure due to conflict, armed groups and illegal activities. Armed groups are selling charcoal and illegal wildlife products to fund their operations. By recreating the link between young people and the managers of Virunga National Park we aim to raise awareness for the important role nature can have for the communities living near the National Park and their livelihoods. We do this in the project Virunga Youth: Actors of Hope.

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Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future
Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice