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Global Tree Cover Loss

Forest ecosystems are a critical component of the world’s biodiversity. Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contribute significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity. 2020 was meant to be a landmark year in the fight against deforestation – a year by which many companies, countries and international organizations had pledged to halve or completely stop forest loss. Continued losses of primary tropical forests make it clear that humanity has fallen short in meeting these targets.

As in past years, commodity-driven deforestation was the leading cause of tree cover loss (both in primary and secondary forests) in Latin America and Southeast Asia, while shifting agriculture dominates in tropical Africa. In addition, fires and other climate-related impacts continued to play a big role, both in the tropics and beyond.

The new data makes it clear that we continue to lose forests at a staggering rate and that many forest-related targets with 2020 deadlines were missed.

The situation is increasingly urgent: the effects of climate change are already being felt, countless species are being lost to the extinction crisis, and forest clearing linked to land-grabbing is having irreversible impacts on the rights, livelihoods and cultural heritage of numerous forest peoples. Initiatives to rebuild economies in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic offer an opportunity to reimagine policies and economies in a way that protects forests before it’s too late.

What is tree cover loss?
Tree cover loss is not the same as deforestation. “Tree cover” can refer to trees in plantations as well as natural forests, and “tree cover loss” is the removal of tree canopy due to human or natural causes, including fire. The data presented here do not take tree cover gain into account and are therefore not an indication of net change.

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