Our disappearing forests

Page - April 4, 2006
We are destroying the world’s precious ancient forests at an unprecedented rate. An area of natural forest the size of a soccer pitch is cut down every two seconds.

A quarter of the forest lost in the last 10,000 years has been destroyed in the last 30 years. Forest loss has a direct link to loss of biodiversity. The current extinction rate of plant and animal species is around 1,000 times faster than it was in pre-human times - and this will increase to 10,000 times faster by 2050.

Scientists predict that the Earth is entering the sixth major extinction event in its history.

World map of last intact forest landscapes

Click on the map to enlarge

Mapping the problem

Until now, world maps have not been sufficiently accurate or consistent to reveal which forest areas remain intact, which have been damaged and to what extent. This has made it difficult to see which forest areas are most in need of protection. Greenpeace has created a new map of the world's forests, based on the most up to date, high-resolution satellite imagery and a consistent set of criteria.

It shows us the remaining large forest areas and lets us compare them directly and accurately with the extent of Earth's original forest cover for the first time. This ground breaking research shows that the world's remaining ancient forests are in crisis and that fewer intact forest landscapes than previously thought are left. To save them, we must act now.

Damage to ancient forests is not just about total deforestation.

It is also about the degradation of forest to a point at which it is no longer a viable habitat for its plant and animal species. In the tropics alone, over 5 million square kilometres of forest have been degraded by destructive logging and a further 3.5 million square kilometres has been totally deforested during the last few decades.

Only intact forest landscapes of several thousands of square kilometres are large enough to sustain healthy populations of many larger forest animals like jaguars, bears, tigers and forest elephants. They are also better able to adapt to the changing global climate.

To preserve these last intact forests and the biodiversity they support, we must protect large, unbroken areas from further industrial exploitation.

The moment a road or pipeline is built the forest and its precious balance of interdependent species begins to be destroyed. These maps are a starting point for monitoring these last large forests landscapes now and in the future and are the baseline for a roadmap to recovery.

World governments can use these maps to identify which forest areas are most in need of protection and to fast track setting up a global network of protected forest areas.

Summary of findings:

Less than 10 percent of the planet's land area remains as intact forest landscapes.

82 countries out of 148 countries lying within the original forest zone have lost all their intact forest landscapes.

The majority of the world's last remaining intact forest landscapes consist of two major forest types - tropical rainforest and boreal forest.

49 percent of the remaining intact forests are the tropical forests of Latin America, Africa and Asia Pacific.

44 percent of the remaining intact forests are the great boreal forests of Russia, Canada and Alaska.

For more detailed maps available as google earth (.kmz) or Arcview (.shp) file downloads, methodology explanation and discussion forum go to www.intactforests.org

To view references for the information on this page, click here