Last year humanity destroyed an expanse of tropical forest nearly the size of England, the fourth largest decline since global satellite data become available in 2001, researchers reported yesterday.
The pace of the loss is staggering -- the equivalent of 30 football fields disappearing every minute of every day in 2018, or a total of 120,000 square kilometres (46,000 square miles).
Almost a third of that area, some 36,000 km2, was pristine primary rainforest, according to the annual assessment from scientists at Global Forest Watch, based at the University of Maryland.
“For the first time, we can distinguish tree cover loss within undisturbed natural rainforests, which contain trees that can be hundreds, even thousands, of years old,” team manager Mikaela Weisse told AFP.
Rainforests are the planet’s richest repository of wildlife and a critical sponge for soaking up planet-heating CO2.
Global forest loss peaked in 2016, fuelled in part by El Nino weather conditions and uncontrolled fires in Brazil and Indonesia.
The main drivers are the livestock industry and large-scale commodity agriculture -- palm oil in Asia and Africa, soy beans and biofuel crops in South America. Small-scale commercial farming -- of cocoa, for example -- can also lead to the clearing of forests.
Nearly a third of primary forest destruction took place in Brazil (13,500 km2), with the Democratic Republic of Congo (4,800 km2), Indonesia (3,400 km2), Colombia (1,800 km2) and Bolivia (1,500 km2) rounding out the top five.
Madagascar lost two percent of its entire rainforest in 2018.
Globally, forests absorb about 30 percent of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, just over 11 billion tonnes of C02 a year.