Nature and Biodiversity

Chart of the day: What if deforestation were a country?

Aerial view shows farmland next to the Amazon rainforest in Mato Grosso state August 9, 2005. The Brazilian government announced the latest data on deforestation of the Amazon Basin, with a total of 26,130 square km (10,089 square miles) of rainforest destroyed, equivalent to more than nine football fields every minute, during the 12-month period ending in August, 2004. The Amazon is home to up to 30 percent of the planet's animal and plant species. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos  BD/KS   also see GF1DVXADCRAA - RP6DRMUPZHAB

Deforestation has a huge impact on the volume of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Image: REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

John McKenna
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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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.

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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.

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Nature and BiodiversityClimate ActionManufacturing and Value Chains
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