New map proves devastation of millions of hectares in Amazon rainforest with daunting detail

New data illustrate, with a frightening level of detail, the accelerated loss of forest cover in Brazil.

Due to human activities, the world continued to lose forests in 2018, according to data from the Global Forest Watch research group and analysts at the University of Maryland.

Deforestation with subsequent substitution by another land use, which removes large portions of forest indiscriminately, was the main contributor to the loss of forest cover in general. Much of this deforestation aimed to create space for livestock, but other commercial activities such as mining and soybean planting were also involved. Compared to the previous year, forest loss has been reduced by almost 50%, largely due to the 2016 and 2017 burning. But disregarding the burnings, forest loss increased by almost 13%. This has implications for climate change and other environmental concerns, the researchers note.

In addition to providing habitat for animals and other plants, forests are also an important tool in combating climate change. Large forest regions, such as the Amazon rainforest, are carbon pools, helping to absorb excess carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

Last summer, environmental groups announced the "30×30" initiative, a target of reducing emissions by 30 percent through sustainable forest management. This goal was set in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Using satellite imagery, researchers at Global Forest Watch also found the loss of 12 million hectares of forest worldwide in 2018. Of those 12 million, more than 350,000 hectares were native forests. Also called primary forests, native forests include mature trees that have never been logged by man in recent history. These areas usually have an abundance of biodiversity, with protected and even unknown species.

Almost 1.6 million hectares of native forest were lost in Brazil alone. Livestock breeding, mining and soybean were the commercial activities that most contributed to this loss.

Environmental activists are increasingly concerned about the Brazilian Amazon since the country elected its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, last year. The new president has promised to open the Amazon to industry and recently cut funds for environmental and scientific research groups.

The report states that forest loss began before Bolsonaro was elected and it is too early to say how his policies will change or have already impacted the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil was not the only country in South America to lose forest cover in 2018.

Colombia, where formerly FARC-controlled territories were opened for commercial purposes last year, also saw an increase in deforestation. More than 11,000 hectares were cleared last year.

While many countries have pledged to reduce deforestation, the main regions, those housing the world's oldest and most biodiverse forests, are moving in the opposite direction, the report says.

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