Deforestation rates are near record lows in Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest rainforests.
It’s one of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim annual report, on the loss of forests worldwide, from the environmental research and policy group World Resources Institute.
Overall, the world lost 4.1 million hectares of undisturbed tropical forest last year, an area the size of Switzerland, according to WRI. That’s a 10% increase from 2021. The loss of forest released as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as all the fossil fuels burned in India in 2021.
Deforestation reverses the CO2 removal function that trees perform. It raises local temperatures and disrupts rainfall patterns.
World leaders pledged to end deforestation by the end of the decade during climate negotiations in Glasgow in 2021.
“Are we on track to halt deforestation by 2030? The short answer is a simple no,” Rod Taylor, head of WRI’s forests program, told reporters at a news conference announcing the results.
The good news from Indonesia is that government moratoriums on logging and palm oil plantations and increased fire prevention measures have kept forest losses low.
Corporate pledges to end deforestation in the palm oil supply chain also appear to be working, WRI says.
The 230,000 hectares of untouched, primary forest lost last year is a sharp decline from the 2016 peak of 930,000 hectares.
Still, “that’s a pretty big loss,” Arie Rompas, head of the forest campaign for Greenpeace Indonesia, told VOA. “The area lost is about three times the size of the capital, Jakarta.”
Deforestation is still taking place in protected areas, he noted.
Indonesia’s environment ministry released official figures Monday showing far less deforestation than WRI’s. The ministry says 104,000 hectares (256,990 acres) were lost last year, down from 113,500 hectares (280,464 acres) in 2021.
WRI says it is working with the ministry on forest monitoring but describes the partnership as “a work in progress.”
Deforestation rates also have leveled off in neighboring Malaysia, another major palm oil exporter with similar policies and pledges on deforestation. Commitments to end deforestation in the world’s two largest palm oil producers now cover more than four-fifths of their refining capacity, according to WRI.
Brazil tops forest losses
Separately, forest losses increased by 15% in Brazil. The 1.8 million hectare (4.45 million acre) decline in undisturbed forest was the largest since 2005.
Brazil was responsible for 43% of the losses worldwide.
They took place during the last year of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term. He encouraged increased logging, mining and agriculture in the Amazon rainforest.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, took over at the beginning of 2023 and has promised to reverse course.
Earlier in June, Lula released his plan to reach zero deforestation by 2030. The Brazilian space agency, INPE, reported 31% less forest loss in the first five months of 2023 compared to last year.
Experts say Lula’s efforts will face opposition from agribusiness supporters in the legislature.
The second-largest forest losses were in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Poverty, not commercial agriculture, is the leading driver of deforestation in the DRC, WRI says. Most forests are cleared for small-scale farming and production of charcoal, the main cooking fuel.
The region’s growing population is putting increasing pressure on tropical forests in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest.
Elsewhere, Bolivia lost the third-largest area of undisturbed forest, and its losses are increasing. The country lost one-third more forest last year than in 2021.
Land clearing for soybeans and other commodity crops is mainly responsible, and Bolivia’s government backs a further increase in large-scale farming. The country is one of the few that did not sign the 2021 Glasgow pledge to end deforestation.
Four of the 10 countries with the highest rates of forest loss are in Latin America.
Commodity crops drive deforestation
Global demand for soybeans, corn, sugar, paper, timber and livestock are the main forces of deforestation worldwide.
Legislation in the European Union will soon prohibit deforestation in supply chains.
Indonesia and Malaysia call the legislation discriminatory.
But WRI’s Taylor said, “It’s an encouraging decision and hopefully it will impact on deforestation rates in the near future.”
He added, “It’s one big market, but there are other markets that haven’t moved on that kind of legislation yet.”
Rio Tuasikal contributed to this report.