Imagine our world without up to 656,000 square miles of forest – an area than twice the size of Texas. Our world would look a lot different.
According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report released in April, this could be the case by 2030. The report identified 11 regions around the world with the greatest expected loss of forest over the next 15 years.
These forests are home to countless animals, including rare and endangered species, and such habitat loss would be detrimental to them. And even worse, it could all happen in as little as 15 years from now unless we address major forest threats like mining, illegal logging, agriculture and road construction.
Here are the 11 forests identified in the WWF report:
The Amazon jungle is the world’s largest forest, but it’s also projected to have the greatest habitat loss. Over a quarter of the forest will be gone if current trends persist, especially today’s cattle ranching and agriculture in the region.
2. Atlantic Forest/Gran Chaco
The Atlantic forest spans parts of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina and is one of the richest rainforests in the world, with more biodiversity per acre than the Amazon. But 75% of the Brazilian population lives there, causing deforestation in both the Atlantic forest and the neighboring dry forest Gran Chaco.
In 2030, there could be as little as 33% of the lowland Borneo rainforest left. Weak government and instability only exacerbate deforestation as more and more people create palm oil plantations in the region.
The Cerrado is a high plateau region in Brazil that isn’t as well-known as the Amazon but is just as threatened. Cattle ranching and converting forest to soy plantations are the major causes of deforestation.
Running along South America’s northwestern Pacific coast, these forests face deforestation from roads, power lines, mining and oil exploration. Most damage has occurred in the Ecuadorian Choco, but the regions in Panama and Colombia are also in jeopardy.
6. Congo Basin
The Congo Basin is one of the world’s most important wilderness regions, containing 20% of the planet’s tropical forests and the most biodiversity in Africa. These forests are especially threatened because the human population is expected to double by 2030.
7. Eastern Africa
This region has the miombo woodlands and coastal and mountain forests, all of which are threatened. The forests are illegally logged, over-harvested for timber and fuel wood or converted to livestock and cash crops. Sadly, the coastal forests of Tanzania and Kenya are already down to 10% of their original area.
8. Eastern Australia
Although there have been recent reductions in deforestation in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, weak legislation raises concerns about forest loss. Conversion of forest land to pastures for livestock is the main cause of deforestation, but key species are affected, including koalas, possums, gliders and birds.
9. Greater Mekong
Because of a booming economy, the region’s forest land is being converted for sugar, rice, rubber and biofuels. But as more and more of the forests are converted for economic development, the area’s animals become increasingly threatened and the Greater Mekong forests are rich in species. For instance, in 2011 alone, 126 new species were discovered there, including fish, snakes, frogs and bats.
10. New Guinea
New Guinea and neighboring islands are home to the largest remaining regions of tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific area and home to more than 6% of the world’s species. But with agriculture on the rise, the forests and their inhabitants are in jeopardy.
Indonesia’s palm oil production is now centered in Sumatra, and particularly the Riau province, causing deforestation in the area. It even affects protected forests and national parks, threatening the region’s rhinos, tigers, orangutans, and other wildlife
What Can We Do?
WWF believes that stopping deforestation now is more strategic and cost-effective than dealing with the consequences later. Deforestation accounts for around 15% of global carbon emissions – more than the total emissions from every single the motor vehicles, airplanes and ships in the world. If we don’t address this issue and take action, we could lose over 600,000 square miles of our planet’s forests. With that, we would lose the benefits those forests provide, including jobs, clean water and wood, and we would lose precious habitat for much of the world’s wildlife and many endangered species.
Featured image by David Evers / CC BY 2.0