Massive wildfires helped increase global forest losses in 2021 2022-04-28 04:31:47

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Unprecedented wildfires broke out across Russia in 2021, burning large areas of forest, sending smoke into faraway regions. North Pole and releasing staggering amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Registrations continued. Insect infestation wreaked havoc. Meanwhile, the continued expansion of agriculture has led to the disappearance of important tropical forests in Brazil and elsewhere at a rate of 10 football fields per minute.

Worldwide, 2021 will cause even more devastating losses to the world’s forests, according to a satellite survey by the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch. The land saw more than 97,500 square miles of tree cover disappear last year, an area roughly the size of Oregon.


Loss of tree cover in 2021

because of the fire

Loss of tree cover in 2021

because of the fire

Loss of tree cover in 2021 due to fire

Loss of tree cover in 2021 due to fire

“When we lose forests, it’s kind of like sequestering emissions,” said Stephanie Rowe, chief global climate scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, comparing it to building a coal plant that will emit greenhouse pollutants for decades. Roe was not involved in the Global Forest Watch analysis.

The latest findings include silver linings, albeit modest.

The latest figures represent a 2 percent decrease compared to 2020 losses, researchers said. In some places, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the loss of primary forests – defined as mature native forests undisturbed by recent history – has continued to diminish in recent years.

In addition, not all losses represent permanent deforestation, especially outside the tropics.

Many areas that disappeared in 2021 such as the northern forests It is dominated by hardwood spruce and pine burned by wildfires in Canada, Russia and the United States, and is expected to grow again over time — although perhaps not soon enough to aid the world in its efforts to pull as much carbon out of the atmosphere as possible.

Pieces of woodland cut down on managed tree farms do not necessarily result in permanent losses.

But the latest data hardly provides cause for celebration.

Russia had its “worst fire season ever,” said Elizabeth Goldman, a researcher at the World Resources Institute (WRI), which launched the Global Forest Watch project 25 years ago. While such fires are a natural part of the northern ecosystem, “Russian fires are particularly worrisome because of the vast area of ​​Siberian peatlands and thawing permafrost, both of which can release huge amounts of stored carbon when peat is dried or burned, or when it thaws.” permafrost, she said.

This can lead to feedback loops that can exacerbate fires and accelerate climate change.

Countries with the largest loss of tree cover due to fires in 2021

There are signs that the problem may be getting worse. In a recent assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that human-caused emissions have A significant increase The area burned by wildfires in the American West and British Columbia.

The authors found that the fires burned growing regions in the Amazon, the Arctic, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia. Forest fires are now being generated as much as a third of all carbon emissions from the world’s forests and landscapes.

Already this spring, meanwhile, Forest fires appeared In peatlands in Russia’s Far East and elsewhere, the country’s Federal Forestry Agency reports that it has put out more than 600 fires across nearly 91,000 acres. last week.


Non-fire tree cover

Loss in 2021

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Congo

Non-fire tree cover

Loss in 2021

Dimocksatic

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Congo

Loss of tree cover not related to fire in 2021

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Congo

Loss of tree cover not related to fire in 2021

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Congo

Meanwhile, in places like Bolivia and parts of the Brazilian Amazon, the destruction of forests to make way for livestock and crops like soybeans could mean more permanent losses that have serious implications not only for the climate, but also for biodiversity.

It is these forests in the tropics that have suffered “stubbornly consistent” losses in recent years, the researchers say.

“They’re really crucial when it comes to the climate story,” Rowe said of tropical forests.

Hopeful case studies exist.

Last year marked Indonesia’s fifth consecutive year of declining forest loss, after the government announced in 2016 a moratorium on all activities that could damage the country’s primary forests and peat wetlands.

“It’s clear that corporate commitments and government actions are working well,” said Hedaya Hamza, research analyst at the World Resources Institute.

Countries with the largest loss of tree cover due to non-fire events in 2021

The precarious state of the world’s forests presents a fundamental challenge as you try to combat climate change.

To slow global warming, humans will need a huge helping hand from the world’s land – particularly its forests, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide every year. But with wildfires burning, spreading insects, and draining wetlands for agriculture, the land could become another source of greenhouse gas emissions.

If forests continue to decline, could the potential for global warming be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels – a central goal of the Paris climate agreement.

Since the major United Nations climate summit in Glasgow last fall, there have been at least 140 countries committed To halt and reverse deforestation en masse by the end of this decade. Thursday’s analysis shows what a formidable challenge that will be.

It is a noble goal and a short time frame.

“We have 20 years of data showing the ongoing annual loss of millions of hectares of primary tropical forests alone,” said Francis Seymour, Senior Fellow at the Water Resources Institute. “But our fingers are not running out in calculating the number of years we have to bring those numbers down to zero.”

“These actions have to be dramatic,” Seymour said.

about this story

Photos: Sloane George/Washington Post. ap; AFP/Getty Images; Bloomberg News The Canadian Press, Stewart Paley and Matthew Abbott for The Washington Post.

Editing by Monica Olmano. Photo Editing by Olivier Laurent.

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