LONDON: A sharp rise in deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest drew global concern this week, spotlighting the environmental impact of the loss of huge swathes of the forest around the world.
The world lost 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of tropical tree cover – equal to 30 football pitches a minute – last year, researchers from Global Forest Watch found.
That has major implications for climate change as forests absorb about a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced globally.
Here are five deforestation hotspots to watch:
1. INDONESIA – The country has the world’s third-largest total area of tropical forest and environmentalists say much of the forest destruction is due to oil-palm plantations.
The $60-billion global trade in palm oil – a widely used edible oil, found in everything from margarine to lipstick – has faced scrutiny from green activists who have blamed its production for forest loss and fires.
Last year Indonesia’s government issued a temporary ban on new permits for palm plantations to protect its tropical forests, but watchdog officials say a lack of transparency has made it difficult to evaluate the moratorium’s effectiveness.
2. ROMANIA – Thousands of Romanians marched in Bucharest this month to protest widespread illegal logging, which protesters say they believe led to the deaths of two forest workers.
Those on the march demanded criminal investigations into the deaths and into attacks on forest workers, as well as improved tracking of logging and tighter legislation.
Romania, home to some of Europe’s last remaining virgin forests, loses between three and nine hectares of forest per hour to illegal logging, according to environmental group Greenpeace.
3. GABON – The Central African country came under scrutiny last year after the disappearance of hundreds of containers of illegally logged kevazingo, a valuable hardwood that is popular in Asia.
Lee White, a conservationist appointed as Gabon’s environment minister after the scandal, has vowed to fight illegal logging by strengthening governance of forests, citing political apathy and climate change for his move into politics.
The government, which has already banned raw wood exports and enlarged protected areas and national parks, is to receive $150 million over 10 years from Norway to help protect its carbon-absorbing tropical forests.
4. MALAYSIA – Together with neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia accounts for 85% of global palm oil output. The industry is often blamed in the country for stripping tropical rainforests along with cattle ranching and soybean production.
Earlier this year the European Union passed a law to phase out palm oil from renewable fuels by 2030 due to global deforestation concerns.
However, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has rejected the link between the palm oil industry and deforestation.
The government has said about 60% of the country’s total oil palm planted area received the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification (MSPO), which requires growers to meet certain environmental protection standards and develop the industry sustainably.
5. BRAZIL – Government data showed deforestation in the Amazon region rose by nearly 30% in the 12 months to July, the highest level since 2008, confirming a sharp increase under the leadership of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is considered key to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.
Last August widespread forest fires in the Amazon sparked global outcry. Wildfires are common in the dry season in Brazil but are also deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.
Sources: Greenpeace, Global Forest Watch, Brazil’s INPE space research agency