Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. Deforestation accounts for about 20% of global emissions of CO2

Google has developed an interactive map to show forest change around the planet.  link      

December 2015: Three trillion trees on planet Earth – what it means.   link
Full article below in first section.  


Latest news:

May 14 2016: Studies show benefits of second-growth forests. According to a new study, woodland areas that regrow after forest fires, logging operations or other disturbances can sequester huge amounts of CO2 and they play an unexpectedly valuable role in mitigating climate change. The research is the first to quantify how much carbon these so-called second-growth forests can sequester - and it turns out it’s huge. link



  • How fast are rainforests disappearing. How many trees are there?
  • REDD - and US role
  • How forests trap one trillion tons of carbon
  • Boreal Forests & Mangrove Forests
  • How rainforests provide cures for disease
  • The Amazon region
  • Elsewhere in the world
How fast are rainforests disappearing - how many trees are there?

In 1950, about 15% of the Earth's land surface was covered by rainforest. In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world's tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day, and 78 million acres lost every year. More than 20% of the Amazon rainforest is already gone, and much more is severely threatened as the destruction continues. It is estimated that the Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year. If nothing is done to curb this trend, the entire Amazon could well be gone within another fifty years. If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80 to 90% of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020.  link

Dec. 7 2015: Three trillion trees on planet Earth – what it means. A Yale University science team came to an estimate for the number of trees on Planet Earth - 3,041,000,000,000 - saying it is interesting to know the number of trees in the world but asking why is it useful? It is our duty as scientists to help environmental stewards and decision-makers by filling critical gaps in our knowledge. In the face of climate change - one of the most significant global threats to life as we know it – we are faced with one clear challenge: we must remove carbon from the atmosphere. Despite all of our best technological advances, it is nature that provides us with our single most effective weapons in this fight against rising CO2 concentrations. Trees absorb carbon directly from the atmosphere to be stored in their biomass and the soil. The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and Plant for the Planet designed the ambitious "Billion Tree Campaign". The problem was that no-one had any idea how many trees there were to start with. Without a baseline understanding of the Earth's forests, it was difficult to comprehend the impacts of these restoration efforts. By using strict criteria for the information that we include (e.g. using only trees with trunks equal to or larger than 10 cm diameter), and incorporating a huge amount of data into our predictive equations, the margin of error around this global estimate was exceptionally small (192 billion trees). By combining satellite technology with ground-sourced information collected by local forestry experts around the world, the most detailed map of the world's forests to date was generated. It revealed that the Earth's forests are home to approximately 3.041 trees. Therefore one billion additional trees would only represent an increase of 0.03% on top of the current global number. In addition, the study revealed that we lose approximately 10 billion trees each year, so even if the billion tree campaign was repeated annually, it would not get us much closer to the goal of halting the net global forest loss. With new information, UNEP and Plant for the Planet’s new target is to restore one trillion trees, and work has begun in earnest - the total number of trees planted to date already exceeds 14 billion. link

October 2015: Indonesia has the world's highest rate of deforestation, even higher than Brazil, which contains most of the Amazon rainforest. From 2000 to 2012, according to research published in Nature, Indonesia lost more than 23,000 square miles of forest to logging, agriculture, and other uses. That's roughly the size of West Virginia. In 2010, the government attempted to slow the rate by exchanging a two-year moratorium on new logging permits with aid from Norway and the United States. But that policy appears to have had the "perverse impact of accelerating [deforestation], because those with permits felt that they had to take action quickly or they would no longer be able to." This all adds up to global-scale pollution: Indonesia is the world's fifth ranking greenhouse gas emitter - link 

We are now losing a tropical forest the size of New York State every year, and the carbon that releases into the atmosphere now accounts for roughly 17% of all global emissions contributing to climate change. This is more carbon dioxide, or CO2, than all cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships collectively emit into the atmosphere   link 

September 2015: There are just over three trillion trees on Earth.  According to a new assessment, the figure is eight times as big as the previous best estimate, which counted perhaps 400 billion at most: the new total represents upwards of 420 trees for every person on the planet. The more refined number will now form a baseline for a wide range of research applications - everything from studies that consider animal and plant habitats for biodiversity reasons, to new models of the climate, because it is trees of course that play an important role in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. What is abundantly clear from the study is the influence humans now have on the number of trees on Earth. The team estimates we are removing about 15 billion a year, with perhaps only five billion being planted back. link

December 2014: Recovering forests lead efforts against climate change. Over time, humans have cut down or damaged at least 75% of the world’s forests, and that destruction has accounted for much of the excess carbon that is warming the planet. Over just a few decades in the mid-20th century, Costa Rica chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of the country. Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming. In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests, saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow, is the single most promising near-term strategy because of the large role that forests play in what is called the carbon cycle of the planet.  link

November 2013: 'Signature' achievement on forests at UN climate talks. A package of measures has been agreed at the COP19 Warsaw talks that will give "results-based" payments to developing nations that cut carbon by leaving trees standing. This represents a significant step forward towards curbing emissions from deforestation. Countries with forests will now have to provide information on safeguards for local communities or biodiversity before they can receive any money. link

May 2013: Sumatra’s rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years. Official figures show more than half of Indonesia’s of rainforest, the third-largest swath in the world, has been felled in a few years and permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains into palm or acacia plantations. The end is in sight for the great forests of Sumatra and Borneo and the animals and people who depend on them. In a frenzy of development they have been trashed in a single generation by global agribusiness and pulp and paper industries.   link

September 2012: Ten African countries come together to protect rainforests. Ten central African countries have come together to protect the Congo Basin rainforest, the world's second largest rainforest, from severe deforestation, through implementing improved national forest monitoring systems and boosting regional cooperation. The 18-month project, launched in July 2012, is managed by the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in collaboration with Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). link

October 2010: Deforestation rates in tropical countries dropped significantly during the last decade relative to the 1990s. FAO figures show deforestation across 121 tropical countries averaged 9.34 million hectares per year, down from 11.33 million hectares during the previous decade. link

February 2014: New on-line tool tracks tree loss. Global Forest Watch has launched a new global monitoring system that promises "near real time" information on deforestation around the world. It uses information from hundreds of millions of satellite images as well as data from people on the ground. Businesses have welcomed the new database as it could help them prove that their products are sustainable. Despite greater awareness around of the world of the impacts of deforestation, the scale of forest loss since 2000 has been significant - Data from Google and the University of Maryland says the world lost 230 million hectares of trees between 2000 and 2012. link   


REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a United Nations program which rewards nations for conserving forests and reforesting degraded ones. The program is expected to be part of the new Copenhagen climate treaty. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the new treaty is expected to tackle deforestation, which alone accounts for 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission. Halting deforestation in tropical forest nations like Indonesia and Brazil is considered crucial to reining in global warming.   

Developing nations that preserve forests would be paid with carbon credits that they could sell to industrialized nations seeking to meet emissions reduction targets. Though the program’s specifics will probably take months or years to be worked out, more than a dozen projects of the United Nations program are already under way in Indonesia, backed by such diverse entities as conservation groups, the Australian government as well as paper and pulp companies. Environmental groups say the paper and pulp companies, after years of despoiling Indonesia, should not be rewarded under the program.  link

REDD could be the cornerstone of a Copenhagen deal, putting forests at the frontline of tackling climate change for the first time. Q & A on REDD.

June 2010: Around $4 billion pledged at Climate and Forest Conference. The Oslo Climate and Forest Conference in Norway concluded with 50 countries agreeing on a framework for the rapid implementation of measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. Around US$4 billion was pledged for the period 2010-2012 for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. "Measures to reduce deforestation are the quickest and least expensive way of achieving large emission cuts," said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. link

U.S. senate asked to consider deforestation as part of Climate Bill. A bipartisan and multi-sector panel of leaders that comprise the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests, recommends that the United States lead a global effort to halve emissions from tropical deforestation by 2020 and achieve zero net emissions from the forest sector by 2030. Far too little attention has been paid to the role tropical deforestation has in warming the planet. It accounts for 17% of global emissions - more than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined. This is a serious oversight; if left unaddressed, deforestation will undermine all our efforts to solve the climate crisis. link

The good news is that protecting “climate forests” is a major global warming solution that can be implemented immediately and affordably. Many developing nations, including Brazil and Indonesia, which together account for 50% of global deforestation, are eager to partner with the United States to protect their climate forests. Indeed, Brazil has established a goal of reducing emissions from the Amazon by 80% by 2020 and is already making impressive progress in that direction, including robust monitoring and verification systems. Indonesia is moving in a similar direction. These efforts could be focused, honed and replicated globally.

How forests trap one trillion tons of carbon

When fossil fuels are burned they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to an atmospheric carbon dioxide increase that, in turn, contributes to global warming and climate change. Trees and forests help alleviate these changes by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it during photosynthesis to carbon, which they then "store" in the form of wood and vegetation, a process referred to as "carbon sequestration."

Trees are generally about 20% carbon by weight and, in addition to the trees themselves, the overall biomass of forests also acts as a "carbon sink." For instance, the organic matter in forest soils - such as the humus produced by the decomposition of dead plant material - also acts as a carbon store. As a result, forests store enormous amounts of carbon: in total, the world's forests and forest soils currently store more than one trillion tons of carbon - twice the amount found floating free in the atmosphere - according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO ) studies. Destruction of forests, on the other hand, adds almost six billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and preventing this stored carbon from escaping is important for the carbon balance and vital in conserving the environment, the UN (FAO) agency says.  Web site for fao.org/forestry   
However some of the positive statistics (see: Global report cites progress in slowing forest losses) offered by FAO are countered by the World Rainforest Movement   

June 2014: Saving trees in tropics could cut CO2 emissions by 20%.  Reducing deforestation in the tropics would significantly cut the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere -- by as much as 20% - research shows. In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the world's tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity. They found that tropical forests absorb almost two billion tonnes of carbon each year, equivalent to one-fifth of the world's carbon emissions, by storing it in their bark, leaves and soil. However, an equivalent amount is lost through logging, clearing of land for grazing, and growing biofuel crops such as palm oil, soya bean and sugar. Peat fires in forests add significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions. link

August 2013: How much carbon is locked up in a tree? Estimating the amount of carbon stored in a forest comes from measuring a tree’s diameter at breast height. The biomass, or living matter, of a tree is about half carbon by weight, and based on tree measurements from around the world, researchers have devised an equation to measure carbon using trunk diameter. A tree more or less average shape, height, and density for the tropics contains 3 metric tonnes of carbon locked up in its wood tissue. On average, trees in tropical forests hold about 50% more carbon per hectare than trees outside the tropics. link

June 2011:
 Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon, experts in Finland and the United States said of the study in the online journal PLoS One. The report, based on a survey of 68 nations, found that the amount of carbon stored in forests increased in Europe and North America from 2000-10 despite little change in forest area. And in Africa and South America, the total amount of carbon stored in forests fell at a slower rate than the loss of area, indicating that they had grown denser. Forests in Asia became less dense over the same period. The study did not try to estimate the overall trend, saying there was not yet enough data.  Forests that were established in China a few decades ago are now starting to reach their fast-growing phase, a reason for rising density now. link         

Boreal & Mangrove Forests

The global boreal forest is a source of carbon which happens to be the world’s largest terrestrial storehouse of carbon and has been largely overlooked in international climate discussions to date. The boreal forest circles the northern portion of our globe, carefully edging along the southern arctic through Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, and Alaska. A report out of Canada states that the boreal forest stores as much as 703 billion tons of carbon in its trees, peatlands, and soils - this amounts to nearly twice the storage capacity per unit area as tropical forests. The main difference with boreal forests is that a significant portion of its carbon is stored below vegetation level whereas tropical forests tend to store the majority of their carbon in the trees and plants themselves. Because boreal forests reside in much colder climates, much of the carbon stored in its vegetation never fully decomposes and is gradually pushed into thick layers of peat and permafrost to be stored for thousands of years. While rates of deforestation in boreal forests tend to be lower than tropical forests, this is no cause for indifference. Around 30% of Canada’s Boreal Forest has been designated for logging, and this number becomes much higher when including mining and oil and gas leases. link 

April 2015: Wildfires are wiping out Canada and Russia’s boreal forests. Canada and Russia have lost an alarming number of trees in recent years, compromising the ecologically rich and carbon-sequestering boreal forests that are native to the regions, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI).  Russia, the country home to the world’s largest area of tree cover, loses an average of 16,600 square miles of tree cover every year, an area larger than Switzerland. Boreal forests serve as major carbon sinks, so losing the forests is bad news for climate change. link

March 2011: Boreal forests across the Northern hemisphere are undergoing rapid, transformative shifts as a result of a warming climate that, in some cases, is triggering feedback loops producing even more regional warming, according to several new studies. Scientists find that as the climate warms, vast tracks of boreal forest are undergoing a biome shift. link 

Mangrove Forests.

Mangrove forests are among the most productive and biologically important ecosystems of the world, including trees, palms and shrubs which grow at tropical and subtropical tidal zones across the equator. Now scientists can use the world's most definitive map of the Earth's mangrove forest to reveal that approximately 53,190 square miles (137, 760 km2) of mangroves exist, substantially less than previous estimate. New data shows that forest distribution is 12.3% smaller than earlier estimates. Increasingly human activity and frequent severe storms have taken their toll, resulting in a loss rate for mangrove forests higher than the loss of inland tropical forests and coral reefs. "The current estimate of mangrove forests of the world is less than half what it once was, and much of that is in a degraded condition," said Dr Chandra Giri from USGSG."It is believed that 35% of mangrove forests were lost from 1980 to 2000."  link
How rainforests provide cures for disease

Rainforest plants, and to a lesser extent rainforest animals, are the source of compounds useful for medicinal purposes. The rainforest has been called the ultimate chemical laboratory with each rainforest species experimenting with various chemical defenses to ensure survival in the harsh world of natural selection.  Rainforest plants have already provided tangible evidence of their potential with remedies for all sorts of medical problems, from childhood leukemia to toothaches. Seventy percent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest. 
Fewer than 5% of tropical forest plant species (and 0.1% of animal species) have been examined for their chemical compounds and medicinal value. link  The Amazon rainforest is home to a diversity of medicinal plants - some examples.

Why the Amazon rainforest is important 

The Amazon River Basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. The basin - roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States - covers some 40% of the South American continent. (The Congo is home to the world's second largest rainforest - 18% of the planet's remaining tropical rainforest.) more   

The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru. If Amazonia were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world. One of the worst droughts on record in the Amazon (2005) was caused by high temperatures in the Atlantic rather than el Nino. The research, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggests that human-driven warming is already affecting the climate of Earth's largest rainforest. As rivers dried up, thousands of square kilometers of land burned for months on end, releasing more than 100 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. link

April 2015: About 1% of all the tree species in the Amazon account for 50% of carbon stored. Although the region is home to an estimated 16,000 tree species, researchers found that just 182 species dominated the carbon storage process. The tropical forest covers an estimated 5.3 million sq. km and holds 17% of the global terrestrial vegetation carbon stock. Amazonia is vital to the Earth's carbon cycle, storing more of the element than any other terrestrial ecosystem. As trees grow larger, they develop more biomass, which contains carbon. So the larger the tree, the greater quantity of carbon locked within its wood. As trees are long-lived organisms, this means the carbon is removed from the atmosphere for decades, if not centuries. link

March 2015: Deforestation again on rise in Amazon. After increasing slightly in 2013, the pace of deforestation has more than doubled in the past six months. Between 2005 and 2010, Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions had plunged by 39%, declining faster than in any other country. Brazil accomplished this by slashing its deforestation rate by more than three-quarters, mostly in the Amazon basin. (Burning forests to clear them is the second biggest source of greenhouse gases after the combustion of fossil fuels, accounting for 30% of the CO2 produced by human activities, according to one U.N. study.link

November 2013: Amazon deforestation reversal. Brazil says the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28% between August 2012 and July 2013, after years of decline. link  

Deforestation in the Amazon
Global agricultural expansion cut a wide swath through tropical forests during the 1980s and 1990s. More than half a million square miles of new farmland was created in the developing world between 19080 and 2000, of which over 80% was carved out of tropical forests. "Every million acres of forest that is cut releases the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as 40 million cars do in a year," Stanford researcher Holly Gibbs said.  link

December 2012: Deforestation in the Amazon updateDeforestation in the Amazon destroyed an area almost as big as the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2010, environmental watchdog agencies said Tuesday. The study prepared by the Amazon Information Network was released in Bolivia. It showed that close to 93,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest were devastated in the 10-year period. The main culprits are illegal logging, the construction of highways, mining, farming and ranching, the construction of hydroelectric dams and oil and gas drilling and exploration. 63% of the rainforest's 2.4 million square miles are in Brazil, and 80.4% of the 2000-2010 deforestation occurred in that country, the study said. Peru was responsible for 6.2% of the deforestation, and Colombia came in third with 5%. The institute added that the latest figures show Brazil is close to its 2020 target of reducing deforestation by 80% from 1990 levels. About 20% of Brazil's Amazon rainforest has been destroyed. But beginning in 2008, the government stepped up enforcement, using satellite images to track the destruction and send environmental police into areas where illegal deforestation was happening at its quickest pace. link

April 2010: Soy farming driving deforestation. Industrial soy expansion in the Brazilian Amazon has contributed to deforestation by pushing cattle ranchers further into rainforest zones.  Research supports claims that soy is an important indirect driver of deforestation.  Soy production exploded in the early 1990s following the development of a new variety suitable to the soils and climate of that region. link

February 2011: Severe 2010 Amazon drought raises fears of warming. The drought last year, which was worse than the 2005 drought termed a "one in a century" event, changes the region from a net absorber of carbon dioxide to a net emitter. In an average year, the basin absorbs about 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. By contrast, the impact of the 2005 drought, spread over a number of years, was calculated as a release of 5 billion tonnes. link  

Elsewhere in the world

December 2015: Africa reveals plan to reforest the continent. By 2030, African nations have vowed to restore 100 million hectares (around 386,000 square miles) of the forest. The “AFR100” activity is an aspiring and phenomenal arrangement by more than twelve African nations to do what they can do in the event of a climate disaster. link

April 2015: China’s “Great Green Wall” helps increase carbon storage on Earth. The total amount of carbon stored in all living biomass above the soil has increased globally by almost 4 billion tons since 2003, with China contributing in a notable way to the increase. "The increase in vegetation primarily came from a lucky combination of environmental and economic factors and massive tree-planting projects in China," said Liu Yi, the study's lead author. Liu is a remote sensing scientist from the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Vegetation increased on the savannas in Australia, Africa and South America as a result of increasing rainfall, while in Russia and former Soviet republics we have seen the regrowth of forests on abandoned farmland. China was the only country to intentionally increase its vegetation with tree planting projects." link  [Pictured: Trees like these planted along the edge of the Gobi Desert make up much of China's Green Great Wall.]  (Photo: Flickr)

March 2010: Forest loss slows as China plants and Brazil preserves.  Forests continue to be lost at "an alarming rate" in some countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 finds the loss of tree cover is most acute in Africa and South America. But Australia also suffered huge losses because of the recent drought. Globally all forests now cover about 31% of the Earth's land surface. link

May 2009: Deforestation faster in Africa: Less than 2% of Africa's forests are under community control, compared to a third in Latin America and Asia, say the Rights and Resources Initiative. The deforestation rate in Africa is four times the world's average. link

July 2009: Ghana, which has lost an estimated 80% of its rainforest in the past 50 years, has ambitious plans to grow 24 million trees to soak up carbon dioxide and restore the rainforest. The first million seedlings are being planted in a pilot scheme in an area that has been heavily logged in recent years. The trees are all tropical hardwoods, mostly indigenous, and it is believed this project could eventually become the largest of its kind. link

Greenpeace: 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere over the past 150 years is thought to come from deforestation, but this is a small amount compared to what is still stored in forests.  link

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