Destruction of tropical forests across the globe releases more carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere than the entire European Union.

If deforestation were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter in the world after China and the US.

Tropical deforestation's CO2e emissions are higher than India and Russia combined
Image: World Resources Institute

Forests’ natural benefit of sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere also helps explain why their destruction releases such high levels of emissions: because trees naturally capture and store carbon, when the trees are consumed by forest fires or cleared and burned to make way for pastureland, carbon that took decades to store is released back into the atmosphere near-instantaneously.

Annual gross carbon dioxide emissions from tree cover loss in tropical countries averaged 4.8 gigatons per year between 2015 and 2017.

To put that another way, deforestation is now causing more emissions every year than 85 million cars would over their entire lifetime.

And it is getting worse: last year was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016, according to the World Resources Institute.

The tropics have lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years. The majority of this has been cleared for the farming of soy, palm oil, the grazing of cattle for beef and the production of other commodities.