The raging Amazon rainforest wildfires have been blamed largely on deforestation carried out for agricultural purposes. But the problem of deforestation isn’t just limited to the Amazon — it’s one that spans much of the world.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, deforestation and forest degradation are the biggest threats to having healthy forests around the world. And yet, more than half of the world’s tropical forests have been destroyed since the 1960s.
In the case of the Amazon rainforest, University of Maryland professor Matthew Hansen explained the fires are deliberately set each year for agricultural deforestation purposes.
Hansen explained each year the fires seem to be getting worse as there is a “loss in momentum” in managing and monitoring the Amazon base.
“This reflects the trend of increasing encroachment and aggressiveness, and in kind of converting the Amazon forest into other land uses,” he said.
Here’s a deeper look at the issue.
WATCH: The global impact of the Amazon Fires
What are deforestation and forest degradation?
The IUCN explains that there are two issues at play. The first is deforestation, which is when forests are wiped out for other uses, most commonly for farming. The second is forest degradation, which means forests lose their ability to function fully because of human actions.
Forest degradation, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, is largely due to illegal logging. The organization also noted that because of these two factors, the world loses 18.7 million acres of forest each year.
Where is deforestation happening?
Deforestation is particularly common in tropical rainforests. The Amazon, which has lost 17 per cent of its forest area in the past 50 years due to cattle farming, would be a perfect example of the problem.
Tim Gray, the executive director of group Environmental Defence, explained that because rainforests are so biodiverse, deforestation has a greater impact on them.
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“A tropical rainforest that you convert to either agriculture or palm oil plantations, or some other land, you’re losing many species. They actually go extinct,” he said.
Gray added that industrialization has impacted forests around the world, particularly in South America, Asia and Africa.
And such controversial issues often makes headlines. On Wednesday, for example, the Indonesian police began investigating three palm oil companies on suspicion of starting fires on Borneo island, where environmentalists say extensive deforestation has occurred.
Beyond those regions, other countries are also impacted by deforestation.
According to the IUCN, roughly 3.7 million hectares of Europe’s forests have also been damaged by aspects such as forest fires, human-linked activities, diseases and livestock or insects.
In Canada, there are 348 million hectares of forest lands, which represent about nine per cent of the world’s forests. However, the federal government notes Canada is responsible for 0.3 per cent of global deforestation.
WATCH: What are the impacts of the Amazon wildfires here in Canada?
Gray noted that while nationally Canada’s numbers may seem quite low, there are pockets of land where deforestation is a serious concern.
He also noted there are other areas such as northern Ontario and Quebec, where commercial forestry and mining have led to forest degradation.
In Canada, Gray said degradation and fragmentation of forests is a larger problem than deforestation itself.
What are the consequences?
There are several consequences of deforestation — and many that are quite serious.
According to the IUCN, more than 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity is found in forests. Cutting down the forests therefore puts that at risk, meaning several species can go extinct.
The WWF noted that about 80 per cent of land-based animals live in forests.
Forests also provide a natural system of cleaning air, water and regulating the climate. They absorb 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Wiping away large parts of forests also has a negative impact on human life — 1.25 billion people rely on forests for shelter, water and food.
Gray added there are also Indigenous communities living in areas such as the Amazon rainforest and deforestation or degradation severely impacts their livelihoods.
“These people have been living in these forests and not damaging them, and by us bringing our kind of western industrial technology into place we’re disrupting that.”