The Science behind Forest Destruction

Standard Page - 2011-06-21
Damage to ancient forests is not just about total deforestation. Forests can also be degraded to a point past which they are no longer viable habitats for the thousands of animals and plant species they support.

Damage to ancient forests is not just about total deforestation. Forests can also be degraded to a point past which they are no longer viable habitats for the thousands of animals and plant species they support.

In the tropics alone, destructive logging has degraded over 5 million square kilometers of forest, while another 3.5 million square kilometers has been completely deforested during the last few decades.

But only intact forests spanning several thousands of square kilometers are large enough to sustain healthy ecologies. Intact forests are also better at regulating the climate and water resources of the world.

Forests and Biodiversity

Evolving over millennia, tropical forests are one of the greatest storehouses of nature’s diversity on Earth; two-thirds of the world’s land species live in forests. Many of these rare creatures – orangutans, tigers, jaguars, forest elephants and rhinos – are increasingly threatened by extinction as they lose their habitats.

Forests and Climate Change

But the importance of forests stretches far beyond their own boundaries. Forests help to regulate the Earth’s climate because they store nearly 300 billion tons of carbon – that’s roughly 40 times the annual greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. But if forests are destroyed through logging or burning, their carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a climate-changing greenhouse gas.

Forest destruction is responsible for up to a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – more than every plane, car, truck, ship and train on the planet combined.

It is Indonesia’s forest destruction that makes this developing country the world’s third-largest carbon emitter. Protecting our forests is a critical part of stopping global climate change.

Forests and Water Resources

Forests also regulate water flow and rainfall so we depend on them to grow our crops and food. The loss of forests in one part of the world can have severe impacts in another; research has shown that forest loss in Amazonia and Central Africa can severely reduce rainfall in US Midwest, for example.

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