The rate of forest loss around the world is alarming. Some 420 million hectares of forest were lost due to deforestation between 1990 and 2020, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, an area the size of the EU.
Deforestation is the destruction of forests so the land can be put to other uses. Forest degradation is a more gradual process related to unsustainable harvesting that causes a loss of forests' capacity to produce wood or support biodiversity.
With forests covering 31% of the global land surface, they are home to most of Earth's terrestrial biodiversity. They also act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and provide a vital source of income for about 25% of the world’s population, with a large part of the land traditionally inhabited by indigenous peoples.
What are the causes of deforestation and forest degradation?
Deforestation and forest degradation are mainly due to human activities and affect people all over the world.
Agriculture is the main driver of deforestation in all regions except Europe.
Forests being converted into cropland is the main driver of forest loss. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it causes at least 50% of global deforestation, mainly for oil palm and soybean production.
Livestock grazing is responsible for almost 40% of global deforestation.
In Europe, converting to cropland represents about 15% of deforestation and 20% is due to livestock grazing.
Urban and infrastructure development, including construction and road expansion represent the third biggest cause of global deforestation, accounting for slightly more than 6% of the total. In Europe it is the main cause of deforestation.
Over-exploitation of wood resources
Other damaging activities related to human activities include overexploitation of wood, including for fuel and illegal or unsustainable logging.
Climate change is both a cause and a consequence of deforestation and forest degradation. The extreme events it triggers, such as fires, droughts and floods, affect forests. In turn, forest loss is harmful for the climate, as forests play a significant role in providing clean air, regulating the water cycle, capturing CO2, preventing biodiversity loss and soil erosion.