A total of 43 million hectares - an area twice the size of the UK - has been lost to deforestation in just over a decade, a new WWF report reveals.
The most recent data links 10% of global deforestation to EU demand for products like beef, soy for animal feed, leather, coffee, cocoa, rubber and palm oil .
The Deforestation fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world report, published today, analysed 24 “deforestation fronts”, or hotspots, across 29 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa and found that more than 43 million hectares of forest were lost in these areas over a 13-year period. The report found that deforestation was taking place at the fastest rates in the following nine locations: the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, the Bolivian Amazon, Paraguay, Argentina, Madagascar, and Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia.
A large proportion of the EU’s soy imports come from the Brazilian Cerrado, home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, and where land has been rapidly cleared for cattle and soy production, resulting in the loss of a third (32.8%) of its forest area between 2004 and 2017. The EU remains the second largest market for Brazilian soy after China, and EU soy imports are more likely to be tainted by deforestation .
WWF is calling for COVID-19 and its negative impacts across the globe to serve as a trigger for greater action to safeguard the world’s forests and other natural ecosystems. At the EU level, we are advocating for a strong new EU law to stop products linked with deforestation and nature destruction from entering European markets.
"Rampant deforestation in the tropics and subtropics may seem a world away, but Europe’s rising demand for products like beef, soy, cocoa and palm oil is adding fuel to the fire. The EU can and must stop being part of the problem”, said Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, Senior Forest Policy Officer at WWF's European Policy Office.
“Right now, the European Commission is drafting a proposal for an EU deforestation law. We - together with more than one million citizens who have raised their voice, and 160+ environmental groups - will be there every step of the way to ensure that such a law is strong, ambitious, and ensures the EU plays its part in protecting the world’s forests, grasslands and wetlands”, she concluded.
According to today’s report, commercial agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation globally, particularly large-scale agriculture, with forested areas cleared to create space for livestock and to grow crops. According to the transparency initiative Trase, the EU had the highest exposure to deforestation embodied in imports of any consumer region at nearly 300,000 ha per year from 2005 to 2013.
In addition to driving habitat and biodiversity loss, deforestation and conversion is fuelling climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), deforestation and peatland degradation contribute most of the 13% of total human-caused CO2 emissions attributed to agriculture, forestry and other land uses.
“Stronger efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation must be part of the solution to the global climate change crisis,” says Pablo Pacheco, WWF Forest Practice Lead Scientist. “The agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors account for about a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, so by tackling forest loss, managing forests more sustainably and shifting to more sustainable food systems, we can cut down our emissions. There’s no alternative if we want to achieve our global climate goals.”
The Deforestation Fronts report urges citizens everywhere to pay their part in combating deforestation by protecting nature where they live, and avoiding products linked to deforestation such as certain meat, soy and palm oil products. However, in Europe, consumers currently have no way of knowing whether their shopping has contributed to deforestation. Through the #Together4Forests campaign, more than one million people have called for a new, ambitious EU law to keep products linked to deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats off the European market, and ensure that the production of these commodities does not lead to human rights violations, including the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. They also called for the law to apply to the finance sector.
 European Commission, “The impact of EU consumption on deforestation” (results cover period 1990-2008)
 Trase, 2020. Trase Yearbook 2020
Senior Communications Officer, Deforestation
+32 471 05 25 11
Anke Schulmeister - Oldenhove
Senior Forest Policy Officer
+32 485 84 31 44
Notes to the editor:
- These deforestation fronts comprise over half (52%) of the total deforestation that took place in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania over the period 2004 to 2017. This suggests that, despite the importance of these fronts, deforestation is taking place on a widespread scale outside of these hotspots.
- As world leaders joined the One Planet Summit for Biodiversity online and in Paris on 11 January, WWF called on participants to take meaningful action on preventing deforestation as a key strategy for averting future pandemics.
- WWF’s report ‘COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature’, released in June 2020, showed that the environmental factors driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases are: land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, the expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production.The report calls for a number of urgent actions from governments, businesses and regulators, including:
- Securing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to their lands and territories and strengthening local control of forests
- Securing the conservation of biodiversity-rich areas
- Ensuring products sourced from forests are produced and traded legally and sustainably
- Ensuring that companies’ supply chains are as sustainable as possible and encouraging more companies and financial institutions to commit to zero deforestation
- Creating policies and legislation that ensure all imported forest commodities and products – and related finance – are free from deforestation and ecosystem conversion, and respect human rights.