Deforestation is a significant global environmental issue, but also has consequences for humans and wildlife.
In this guide, we look at what deforestation is, what causes it, where it occurs the most, rates of deforestation, the effects and problems, and potential solutions.
We also look at reforestation and afforestation.
Summary – Deforestation
- Deforestation is mainly the clearing of forest land or land with trees for non forest use (farming, ranches, logging etc.)
- The main direct cause of deforestation is agriculture
- Some of the main side effects of deforestation are habitat damage, biodiversity loss of animals and plant life, aridity, land degradation and top soil erosion (topsoil takes up to a millenia to naturally replenish), loss of biosequestration of carbon from the atmosphere, richer countries benefiting, and people (mainly local populations that depend on the rainforest for their livelihood) from poorer countries losing out
- Interestingly, we have more trees on Earth now than 35 years ago, but tropical rainforests are still being depleted – which is an issue, because of how rich the biodiversity is in rainforests. So, tropical rainforest deforestation is a significant issue. The thing about tropical rainforest deforestation to note is that, some side effects such as species extinction are irreversible, and, it takes a very long time to restore rainforests – that’s even if they can be restored at all.
- Reforestation rates still appear to be lagging (as of right now) behind deforestation rates
What Is Deforestation
- Deforestation, clearance, or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use.
- Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use.
- The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 30 percent of Earth’s land surface is covered by forests.
Why Deforestation Occurs
Deforestation occurs for multiple reasons:
- trees are cut down to be used for building or sold as fuel (sometimes in the form of charcoal or timber)
- while cleared land is used as pasture for livestock and plantation
Disregard of ascribed value, lax forest management, and deficient environmental laws are some of the factors that allow deforestation to occur on a large scale.
In many countries, deforestation – both naturally occurring and human-induced – is an ongoing issue.
Causes Of Deforestation
… the overwhelming direct cause of deforestation is agriculture
Subsistence farming is responsible for 48% of deforestation; commercial agriculture is responsible for 32%; logging is responsible for 14%, and fuel wood removals make up 5%.
Other causes of contemporary deforestation may include corruption of government institutions, the inequitable distribution of wealth and power, population growth and overpopulation, and urbanization.
Globalization is often viewed as another root cause of deforestation, though there are cases in which the impacts of globalization (new flows of labor, capital, commodities, and ideas) have promoted localized forest recovery.
Deforestation Effects & Problems
- The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in habitat damage, biodiversity loss, and aridity.
- It has adverse impacts on biosequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- Deforestation has also been used in war to deprive the enemy of vital resources and cover for its forces. Modern examples of this were the use of Agent Orange by the British military in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency and the United States military in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
- As of 2005, net deforestation rates have ceased to increase in countries with a per capita GDP of at least US$4,600. Deforested regions typically incur significant adverse soil erosion and frequently degrade into wasteland.
- Deforestation causes extinction, changes to climatic conditions (via greenhouse gas emissions), desertification, and displacement of populations as observed by current conditions and in the past through the fossil record.
- More than half of all plant and land animal species in the world live in tropical forests.
- Between 2000 and 2012, 2.3 million square kilometres (890,000 sq mi) of forests around the world were cut down. As a result of deforestation, only 6.2 million square kilometres (2.4 million square miles) remain of the original 16 million square kilometres (6 million square miles) of forest that formerly covered the Earth.
- An area the size of a football pitch is cleared from the Amazon rainforest every minute, with 136 million acres (55 million hectares) of rainforest cleared for animal agriculture overall.
Overall, deforestation has the following effects:
- Environmental – atmospheric, hydrological, and soil problems
- Wildlife – biodiversity loss
- Economic – developed/higher income countries profit the most from deforestation, while lesser developed countries can lose out
- Human – low income countries can suffer from deforestation economically and from a quality of life perspective as they no longer can use the forest to provide for themselves. Also, deforestation can cause public health issues from things like stagnant water and wildlife that can carry diseases after the forest is cleared
You can read more in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation
Countries With The Most Total Forest Area
You can read more about countries with the most forests at:
A top 6 list includes:
- United States
Countries With the Highest Deforestation Rates (Total Woodland Area Lost)
You can read more about deforestation rates at:
A top 10 list includes:
- Papua New Guinea
- The US
Is Deforestation Increasing Or Decreasing Based On Year By Year Stats & Numbers?
There’s two things to know about deforestation up until this point in time:
- We have more total tree cover (tropical areas + subtropical, temperate, boreal, and polar regions) on Earth than 35 years ago
- … Earth may presently have more trees than 35 years ago … but, some of its most productive and biodiverse biomes—especially tropical forests and savannas—are significantly more damaged and degraded, reducing their resilience and capacity to afford ecosystem services.
- … tropical tree cover loss has been increasing since continuously since 2001 (this is important to note because tropical rainforests are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth)
You can read more about deforestation stats year by year at:
Although there some uncertainties around the rates of deforestation and the stats provided, there is an agreement that destruction of rainforests remains a significant environmental problem.
Some effects are irreversible, such as wildlife species loss.
It takes time to bring life back to forests once trees are replanted.
There is a difference between total tree area, and tree density in forests – so these indicators should be measured separately with reforestation.
Potential Deforestation Solutions, Management & Control
To control and reduce deforestation, there are several strategies that might be used:
- … use direct monetary or other incentives to encourage developing countries to limit and/or roll back deforestation. This is done through several different types of programs run through the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) Agreement. In the last two decades, various studies estimate that land use change, including deforestation and forest degradation, accounts for 12-29% of global greenhouse gas emissions – so it helps with managing climate change too
- Transferring land rights from the public domain to indigenous communities
- New more sustainable methods of farming and agriculture such as food forests in permaculture
- Monitoring deforestation via visual interpretation of aerial photos or satellite imagery, and hot spot analysis. Deforestation rate and total area deforested are two key stats used for example
- Designing forest management policies to consider the short term and long term effects of deforestation
- Having global certification systems such as Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and Forest Stewardship Council, which contributes to tackling deforestation by creating market demand for timber from sustainably managed forests
- Having world tree planting days like China has to replenish tree numbers
- Using bamboo instead of wood
- Reforestation and afforestation
- Increasing the number of planted forests
Reforestation & Afforestation Rates & Information
It’s hard to find accurate reforestation rates.
Recently (over the last few years), there’s been some significant tree planting projects in various countries undertaken that have been individually reported.
Some stats on reforestation are:
- By one measure the global reforestation rate between 1990 and 2005 was 2.5 million hectares a year, compared to 7 million to 8 million hectares a year destroyed by deforestation in that period. In the 1990s, in another estimate, 14 millions hectares were lost a year to deforestation but 5.2 million hectares was gained through replanting for a net loss of 9.4 million hectares.
You can read more about reforestation and afforestation rates and numbers in these resources: