The world lost 3.8 million hectares of tropical primary forest in 2019 – equivalent to a football pitch every six seconds – according to a new report published Tuesday.
The loss of tropical primary forest makes up about a third of the 11.9 million hectares of tree cover that was lost last year, reveals a report from Global Forest Watch (GFW).
Primary forests are described as “some of the densest, wildest and most ecologically significant forests” in the world and are particularly important for carbon storage and biodiversity.
The hardest hit areas were in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, the report says.
The report, which uses data gathered by the University of Maryland, shows primary forest loss was 2.8% higher in 2019 than the previous year.
Experts are also concerned the coronavirus pandemic could increase deforestation rates.
GFW tracks land use, climate and biodiversity changes around the globe through its open-source data monitoring and mapping tool.
Analysis focused on primary forests, which “once they are lost… can take decades or even millennia to grow back,” according to a post on GFW’s website by World Research Institute’s Mikaela Weisse and Elizabeth Goldman.
The rate of primary forest loss has remained “stubbornly high for the last two decades despite efforts to halt deforestation,” says the report.
Primary forest loss was lower last year than its peak in 2016 and 2017, but the total loss in hectares is the third-highest since 2000.
This amount of primary forest loss is associated with the same annual carbon dioxide emissions as 400 million cars, according to the report.
The worst-hit countries
Brazil accounted for the largest loss of primary forest, with more than 1.3 million hectares lost in 2019.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has faced global criticism and condemnation for the deforestation occurring under his watch. He has also been accused of incentivizing the activity of illegal ranchers, miners and loggers.
Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows the first trimester of 2020 saw a more than 50% increase in deforestation compared to last year.
Meanwhile, in terms of total tree cover loss, Bolivia had its worst year in 2019 with more than 80% more trees lost than any other year on record, the report says. This follows several regulatory changes in recent years designed to encourage agriculture, the report adds.