Deforestation, clearance or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use. Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 30% of Earth’s land surface is covered by forests.
Deforestation occurs for multiple reasons: trees are cut down to be used for building or sold as fuel, (sometimes in the form of charcoal or timber), while cleared land is used as pasture for livestock and plantation.
The most critical of all forest types is primary forest, known as old-growth or virgin forest. Examples include the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia and those of the Amazon and the Congo. With mature canopy trees and complex understories, these forests contain 300 billion tons of carbon and are the greatest repositories of biodiversity on the planet.
In 2015, there were an estimated three trillion trees in the world. That count is substantially higher than previously thought, but more than 15 billion are cut down each year. Since humans began farming, the number of trees on earth has fallen by 46 percent. Carbon emissions from deforestation and associated land use change are estimated to be 10 to 15 percent of the world’s total.
Strategies to stop deforestation:
Strategies to stop deforestation and protect forests include:
- public policy and the enforcement of existing anti-logging laws;
- market-driven mechanisms, primarily eco-certification programs that inform consumers and affect purchasing decisions; and
- programs that enable wealthy nations and corporations to make payments to countries and communities for maintaining their forests.
Forest protection reduces these emissions from deforestation. Emissions from tropical deforestation and forest degradation alone are estimated at 5.1-8.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year. This accounts for 14-21 percent of anthropogenic emissions (International Sustainability Unit, 2015). Future deforestation and forest degradation, although difficult to estimate due to uncertainties in population growth, enforcement of existing laws, scaling up of bioenergy, and other factors, are likely to contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions over the 21st century.
Impact on nature
For each acre of forest protected, the threat of deforestation and degradation is removed. By protecting an additional 687 million acres of forest, this solution could avoid carbon dioxide emissions totaling 6.2 gigatons by 2050. Perhaps more importantly, this solution could bring the total protected forest area to almost 2.3 billion acres, securing an estimated protected stock of 245 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to over 895 gigatons of carbon dioxide if released into the atmosphere. Financials are not projected, as they are not incurred at the landholder level
Forests are cleared for timber extraction, for firewood, and to prepare new farmland, among other reasons. Several Drawdown solutions offset the loss of these yields to some degree. Afforestation and bamboo produce timber. Clean cookstoves helps reduce the need for firewood through adoption of efficient stoves. And farmland restoration brings abandoned farmland back into production, reducing the need to clear land. Plant-rich diet and reduced food waste lower food demand and thus the need for forest clearing, as do population solutions educating girls and family planning.
Climate activists have made “keep it in the ground” a slogan in regards to fossil carbon like oil and coal. Climate mitigation requires us to keep forest carbon in the ground.