13 January 2021
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Forest nearly twice the size of UK lost in just over a decade
WWF calls for new legislation to be implemented to stop UK supply chains driving global deforestation
An area of forest totalling 43 million hectares – almost double the size of the UK – was wiped out by deforestation in key global hotspots in just 13 years, according to a new WWF study.
The Deforestation Fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world report analysed 24 ‘deforestation fronts’* where large areas of forest are under threat. Commercial agriculture was found to be the leading cause of deforestation, with areas cleared to create space for livestock and to grow crops, such as soy for animal feed in the UK. Other drivers of large-scale deforestation include road building, mining and land speculation.
Habitat destruction in critically important forests such as the Amazon is one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss and climate change. It is also a risk factor to humans for outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases such as COVID19. As wild habitats are destroyed, the risk of a zoonotic disease event is increased, as humans and livestock are driven into closer contact with wild animals.
The study found that across 29 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, some 43 million hectares of forest and other critical natural ecosystems were destroyed between 2004 and 2017. Nine of the 24 deforestation fronts are in Latin America, a region which has experienced a devastating 94% decline in wildlife populations since 1970, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020. Five of these fronts are in the Amazon rainforest, which is already approaching a ‘tipping point’; scientists fear losing a further 5% of the Amazon could mean the rainforest can no longer sustain itself and would switch to a drier ecosystem, leading to runaway climate change.
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said:
“Nature is in freefall and our climate is changing dangerously – protecting precious forests like the Amazon is a vital part of the solution to this global crisis. We have an opportunity to stop the things we buy and the food we eat here in the UK from causing the destruction of nature overseas.
“That’s why we need urgent action from the Government to implement ambitious new laws to get deforestation out of our supply chains. The UK will then be able to show true leadership as hosts of the global climate conference in Glasgow later this year.”
The report says more should be done to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, putting more forests under their control and helping to ensure the conservation of biodiversity-rich areas. It concludes that a multi-pronged approach, with public, private and community efforts is the key to halting global deforestation, forest degradation and the destruction of other natural ecosystems. When government policies coincide with private initiatives, major decreases in deforestation can be achieved.
Awapy Uru-eu-wau-wau is a cacique or chief of the Uru-eu-wau-wau indigenous peoples in central Rondônia, Brazil. He is the head of the surveillance team responsible for overseeing their indigenous land, to record loggers’ invasions and illegal deforestation. He said:
“We face two problems from invaders – deforestation, and fires. These give us a lot of trouble. The deforestation especially keeps on going and causing us trouble. Every time they chop down the jungle, they get closer to the village,” he said.
“Nature is important to me because I was born in the jungle, I grew up in the jungle, and my father taught me how to deal with nature. Nature, for us, is the life of the Indian. Why? It gives pure oxygen, it gives natural food to us, hunting, fishing, native fruits of the jungle, medicine, so, it is important to us, because we live off the jungle.”
Ana Cláudia Matos da Silva, is one of the of the Mumbuca community in Jalapão State Park, in the Cerrado, Brazil. She said:
“The Cerrado that we want is free of destruction, free of monoculture, free of industry. It is the Cerrado we have always known and that our ancestors have always preserved. We now face the Cerrado being devasted and us together with it. And many of our leaders are being killed. We’re fighting to keep the Cerrado alive and standing. It is us and Cerrado fighting together. Thinking about the Cerrado in 50 or 60 years time - that makes me hurt...it makes me hurt.”
The report found that the fastest rates of deforestation and land conversion were taking place in nine locations: the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado; the Bolivian Amazon; Paraguay; Argentina; Madagascar; and Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Forests covered about half of the Earth’s land area 8,000 years ago, but today only 30% of land is forested, with deforestation continuing at shocking rates, particularly in places that are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and endangered wildlife
As the UK’s new Environment Bill is poised to return to parliament, WWF is calling on the Government to use the Bill to implement stronger measures to remove all deforestation and habitat conversion from the forest risk commodities we import such as soy palm oil, and derived products by 2023 and to implement a mandatory ‘due diligence obligation’ to help achieve this . This would ensure the Bill requires businesses operating in the UK – including financial institutions – to carry out due diligence to ensure their global supply chains and investments are not linked to the destruction of habitats such as forests and savannah. WWF is also calling for the Environment Bill to include a target to halve the UK’s global footprint (from all consumption and production) by 2030.
For further information, additional content or to arrange an interview, please contact:
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NOTES TO EDITORS
The full report is available here.
The executive summary is available here.
*The report tracked 24 deforestation fronts in the tropics and sub-tropics, covering an area of 710 million hectares, from 2004 to 2017. These deforestation fronts comprise over half (52%) of the total deforestation that took place in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania over the period 2004 to 2017. This suggests that, despite the importance of these fronts, deforestation is also taking place on a widespread scale outside of these hotspots.
The 24 fronts identified in the report are:
1 Amazon – Brazil
2 Amazon – Colombia
3 Amazon – Peru
4 Amazon – Bolivia
5 Amazon – Venezuela/Guyana
6 Gran Chaco – Paraguay/Argentina
7 Cerrado – Brazil
8 Chocó-Darién – Colombia/Ecuador
9 Maya Forests – Mexico/Guatemala
10 West Africa – Liberia/Ivory Coast/Ghana
11 Central Africa – Cameroon
12 Central Africa – Gabon/Cameroon/Republic of Congo
13 Central Africa – DRC/CAR
14 Central Africa – Angola
15 East Africa – Zambia
16 East Africa – Mozambique
17 East Africa – Madagascar
SOUTHEAST ASIA AND OCEANIA
18 Mekong – Cambodia
19 Mekong – Laos
20 Mekong – Myanmar
21 Sumatra – Indonesia
22 Borneo – Indonesia/Malaysia
23 New Guinea – Indonesia/PNG
24 Eastern Australia
- The Brazilian Amazon is one of the largest areas of tropical forests at 395 million hectares. It provides significant environmental services, including carbon sequestration and some of the world’s richest biodiversity. The Brazilian Amazon is close to reaching a tipping point, at which the forest will no longer be able to keep itself alive and the most affected portions will suffer diminished rainfall and prolonged dry seasons.
- The Gran Chaco has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, driven particularly by genetically modified soy production and large-scale cattle ranching.
- The Brazilian Cerrado, which covers over 200 million hectares, is the world’s most biodiverse savannah. The Cerrado plays an essential role in supporting Brazil’s water cycle as the source of eight of the country’s 12 river basins. Ongoing clearing may reduce precipitation and increase local temperatures, putting remaining vegetation, livelihoods and continued agricultural production in this region at risk.
- The Maya Forest, encompassing Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, constitutes one of the largest tropical forest areas in the Americas. The causes of deforestation have notably shifted in this region, from cattle ranching and slash-and-burn to commercial farming, indicating the changing economic dynamics.
There is no viable path to achieving global climate goals or safeguarding nature and human health without ending deforestation and improving the way we use and manage forests.
The report calls for urgent actions from global governments, businesses and regulators, including:
- Securing the rights of indigenous people and local communities, putting more forests under their control.
- Securing the conservation of biodiversity-rich areas.
- Ensuring products sourced from forests are produced and traded legally and sustainably.
- Ensuring that companies’ supply chains are as sustainable as possible and encouraging more companies and financial institutions to make commitments to being deforestation and conversion-free.
- Creating policies and legislation that ensure all imported forest commodities and products – and related finance – are free from deforestation and land conversion and respect human rights.
 UK’s mandatory due diligence obligation: The due diligence obligation would involve establishing a robust legislative framework as part of the government’s Environment Bill that requires businesses operating in the UK to prove that forest risk commodities within their supply chains are not linked to deforestation and habitat conversion. The Government’s proposed obligation is a good first step, but requires strengthening to ensure that it helps level the playing field for companies already taking ambitious steps and enables action from entire sectors towards achieving deforestation and conversion-free supply chains.
- WWF’s flagship Living Planet Report 2020 revealed population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have fallen an average of 68 per cent globally since 1970 – more than two thirds in less than 50 years. Intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland are among the main causes of this drastic decline.
- The WWF/RSPB report ‘Riskier Business - The UK’s Overseas Land Footprint’ published in 2020 found that between 2016 and 2018, 21.3 million hectares - equivalent to 88% of the size of the total UK land area - was required each year to supply the UK demand for seven agricultural and forest commodities. These included soy; palm oil; cocoa; beef and leather; pulp and paper; timber; and natural rubber. The report co-produced by WWF and RSPB, also revealed a 15% growth in the UK’s land footprint overseas, in comparison with the previous study of 2011-15.
WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries. Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re fighting to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources.
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Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk