What Are the Consequences of Deforestation?

Consequences of deforestation

In 2019, something remarkable happened. The world raised its collective voice over forest fires and deforestation across the Amazon rainforest. Never had the world united in such a way in anguish at the destruction of the “lungs of the Earth”.1 Deforestation became a global issue because more people recognised the consequences of deforestation.

What’s more remarkable is what followed, away from much of the world’s eyes. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who favoured opening up the forests to more fires and destruction, had to back down due to international pressure. He had favoured selling more parts of the Amazon to agricultural and mining companies and ignored the rights of indigenous communities.2

But, he came under sustained pressure from international non-governmental organisations, financial companies, investors and even European governments to instead protect the Amazon. It was perhaps the first time such international pressure succeeded against a determined world leader.3

What are the effects of deforestation?

Deforestation
An image of deforestation in Germany. Deforestation can also be seen around the world, with varying consequences

Deforestation has a devastating impact on indigenous communities, livelihoods, economic development, in addition to climate change and the health of our planet.4 This impact is not always visible immediately. In some cases, the impact may take years to materialise, but it is inevitable.

The impact on indigenous communities cannot be underestimated. Around the world, an estimated 300 million people still live in and among forests.5 This ranges from Latin America – where the Amazon covers several countries – to India, where the vast majority of the country still lives in rural areas. 

Over 1.6 billion lives also depend on forests along with inumerous species and animals. People depend on forests for food, resources and employment. Sustainable forests create forestry jobs for managing and tending them. Moreover, millions of people need forests for as much as 90 per cent of their family fuel needs. Hundreds of millions of jobs also directly depend on the wood, forestry and timber industries worldwide. Deforestation is therefore destructive for jobs, as well as livelihoods.6

What are the climate change consequences of deforestation?

Rising carbon dioxide levels

Forests store and soak up large quantities of carbon, so cutting them down releases it back into the atmosphere and makes the earth hotter through an abundance of greenhouse gases. In turn, that destabilises the delicate balance of climate patterns and leads to extreme weather events, such as flooding, droughts and forest fires.7

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest

What is happening in the Amazon rainforest is a mixture of these changes. Companies are cutting forest land to make way for farmland and mining. That, in turn, affects people, plants and animals who live in and rely on these forests. A lower concentration of forests also leads to the region attracting less rainfall, as trees attract clouds. Less rainfall leads to the forests being drier and more susceptible to fires in the summer. This vicious cycle can feed on itself and lead to more serious fires every year.8

In other words, forests stop the planet from overheating and drying out. Trees give off water which forms clouds, cooling the atmosphere and irrigating the land. When they are destroyed, and this cycle is reversed, the earth dries and regional temperatures rise.9 These wider climate change effects of deforestation not only touch upon indigenous communities in rural parts of the world but also have large scale and long-term environmental consequences for the whole human population.

Even the markets are beginning to recognise this fact. In June 2020, over two dozen international financial institutions warned the Brazilian government, “We recognize the crucial role that tropical forests play in tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity and ensuring ecosystem services”.10 It was an unprecedented statement, recognising how awareness of the issue had spread across the world. Under pressure from financial institutions, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro had to back down.

Deforestation in tropical forests: World action on the Amazon rainforest

Forests and nature are essential tools in the fight against climate change. We cannot reduce carbon emissions without stopping and reversing deforestation. This is why the world needs to take stronger action to stop destruction of the Amazon. 

Around 865,000 acres of Amazonian land has been destroyed every year since 2011. In the 1990s, that figure was much lower; around 366,000 acres a year, on average.11 In other words, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has increased, not decreased. This is a published health and climate emergency.

There is now renewed pressure on the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, to unite world leaders and take stronger action.12 But, it is also extremely unlikely that the President of Brazil will listen without international pressure. He is more committed to opening up the rainforests to commercial companies than protecting them.13

This is why the outcry against the destruction of the Amazon was so important. It didn’t just set a precedent; it made the world more aware of the importance of such natural resources for our own well-being.

Sources

  1. Carbon Brief. (2019). Media reaction: Amazon fires and climate change. [online] Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/media-reaction-amazon-fires-and-climate-change.
  2. Under Pressure, Brazil’s Bolsonaro Forced to Fight Deforestation. (2020). New York Times. [online] 1 Aug. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/americas/Brazil-amazon-deforestation-bolsonaro.html
  3. Under Pressure, Brazil’s Bolsonaro Forced to Fight Deforestation. (2020). New York Times. [online] 1 Aug. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/americas/Brazil-amazon-deforestation-bolsonaro.html.
  4. Nunez, C. (2019). Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet. [online] Nationalgeographic.com. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/.
  5. WWF. (n.d.). Tackling forest loss and damage. [online] Available at: https://www.wwf.org.uk/what-we-do/tackling-forest-loss-and-damage.
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015). Forests and poverty reduction. [online] Fao.org. Available at: http://www.fao.org/forestry/livelihoods/en/.
  7. Union of Concerned Scientists. (2012). Tropical Deforestation and Global Warming. [online] Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/tropical-deforestation-and-global-warming.
  8. Amazon fires: Are they worse this year than before? (2020). BBC News. [online] 28 Aug. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-53893161.
  9. Nature4Climate. (n.d.). Benefits. [online] Available at: https://nature4climate.org/science/benefits/ [Accessed 5 Feb. 2021].
  10. Under Pressure, Brazil’s Bolsonaro Forced to Fight Deforestation. (2020). New York Times. [online] 1 Aug. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/americas/Brazil-amazon-deforestation-bolsonaro.html.
  11. Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back. (2017). The New York Times. [online] 24 Feb. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/business/energy-environment/deforestation-brazil-bolivia-south-america.html.
  12. Friedman, L. (2021). Former U.S. Climate Leaders Press Biden on Amazon Deforestation. The New York Times. [online] 29 Jan. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/29/climate/biden-amazon-deforestation.html [Accessed 5 Feb. 2021].
  13. Under Brazil’s Far-Right Leader, Amazon Protections Slashed and Forests Fall. (2019). The New York Times. [online] 28 Jul. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/28/world/americas/brazil-deforestation-amazon-bolsonaro.html.