At first glance, the matter seems clear. Researchers in Japan analyzed detailed data sets on global forest cover from 1960 to 2019. Two opposing trends were observed: while deforestation has stopped in most richer countries and the number of trees has even increased again, in poorer countries the tropics still lost huge areas every year. In addition to the timber industry, agriculture and mining are also responsible for this. The ‘forest transition’ theory developed in the 1990s, according to which there is a close link between the socio-economic development of a country and the development of the forest stock, seems to be confirmed. For example, low-level economic development will initially cause more forests to be felled. From a certain point in terms of prosperity, however, the opposite effect occurs and the forest area increases again.
Many forest areas are being cleared for export products
So much for the theory behind the numbers. The researchers therefore speak of a net forest loss. So the sum of the areas lost minus the newly added forests. Indonesia, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Paraguay and Colombia recently achieved the highest values here. Particularly worrying: development has gained momentum again in recent years. However, blaming poorer countries alone does not go far enough. Because in many cases, the industrialized countries get such good values only because they have outsourced land-consuming activities to poorer countries. Specifically, between 1972 and 2019, approximately 170 million hectares of forest in poorer countries were cleared for the production of export products. For a long time, the buyers here did not attach much importance to the theme of sustainability. However, this has changed in recent years, so there is at least hope for improvement.
Forests are the green lungs of our planet
The results of the analysis are especially important because they show where troubleshooting should start. The main aim is to support emerging and developing countries in their sustainable economic development. This must inevitably be accompanied by higher costs for some products. However, from an overall economic point of view, it should still be a worthwhile undertaking. Because forests represent something like the green lungs of our planet, they also absorb large amounts of CO2. Theoretically, afforestation could even lead to negative emissions – which would greatly help in the fight against climate change. Right now, however, the world is still moving in the wrong direction. With potentially fatal consequences: the Amazon rainforest, for example, could eventually become part of the savanna if action is not taken in time.