Forest the Size of the UK is Being Lost Globally Each Year

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The reality of the climate emergency is upon us and the politization of the forest – particularly the Amazon – has the world facing up to the urgent issue of deforestation.

Just this month an exhibition seeking to draw attention to the relationship between nature and humankind has opened in Klagenfurt, Austria. The project sees some 300 native species of tree planted as part of an installation in the Wörthersee Football Stadium.

The installation is based on a pencil drawing by Max Peintner titled, The Unending Attraction of Nature which depicts an industrialized dystopian horizon with nature as a footnote in the world operating only as spectacle.

This bleak impression of a near future is not far-fetched considering the findings of a   recent report. Thinktank Climate Focus has recently announced the discovery that the current number of trees lost around the world each year is 26 million hectares - this is the equivalent of a forest the size of the UK. This rate of deforestation comes in spite of the fact that back in 2014 governments and corporations pledged to “eliminate deforestation” by 2030 whilst attending a UN summit.

Deforestation has accelerated, despite the pledges that have been made.

Charlotte Streck, Co-founder and director, Climate Focus

The New York Declaration on Forests signed at the UN summit in 2014 stated that countries should not only significantly reduce deforestation – to a rate that would eventually see it eliminated within two-decades – but also aim to restore 150 m hectares of deforested land. Yet, the rate has actually increased by 43% since the declaration was put in place. What’s more is that scientists and researchers believe that the issue isn’t being taken seriously enough with relation to the role forests could play in combatting the climate crisis.

Without forests, the planet would become a hotter and drier landscape with a significant loss to biodiversity. This would lead to the extinction of species as well as millions of people being displaced from their homes in areas significantly affected by current deforestation practices. This includes the wildlife and human population of the Amazonian rainforest affected by the fires this year.

However, the data from Climate Focus does not include trees lost during the fires in the Amazon this year which has seen over 88,000 fires started in the rainforest. Streck was particularly alarmed by this year’s fires as global warming has contributed to the spread of the fires as the land is more combustible. She stated, “The fires are coming at the beginning of the dry season, which is when you would have expected the forests to be at their wettest and hardest to burn,” she said. “This shows we could be entering into a feedback loop.”

This is of particular concern to researchers and climate scientists looking for solutions to the current emergency as feedback loops of this ilk could suggest a surge in the effects of global heating. The drying of the trees is one of the side effects of a warming planet and makes the spread and outbreak of fires more likely and harder to control.

In addition, the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere intensifies which in turn creates a warmer climate. Therefore, if the feedback loop is not interrupted, we may come to see a world which resembles the etchings of Peintner, one in where trees become spectacle and not vital lifelines of the world’s ecosystems. Streck has called for more action and less talk, We don’t need more important guys standing up making pledges,” she said. “We need to go beyond declarations. Implementation is complicated, but it’s what we need.”

To echo Streck’s call to action, there has been some encouraging news as various countries have implemented tree-planting schemes, notably Ethiopia, where up to 350 million trees were planted in a single day. As well as wetter conditions in Indonesia reducing the spread of forest fires in addition to campaigning groups pressurizing companies and governments to slow the rate of loss.

If efforts such as these can be expanded, and more companies and governments can practically implement the declarations they sign then efforts combatting the climate crisis will be bolstered. Furthermore, we may come to truly appreciate the unending attraction of the nature of forests as they furnish the world with diverse ecosystems, human habitats, clean water supplies, and also provide a large portion of the planets oxygen supply.

David J. Cross, M.A

Written by

David J. Cross, M.A

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.

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