Deforestation

From temperate forests to tropical rainforests, deforestation continues to be an urgent environmental issue that jeopardizes people’s livelihoods, threatens species, and intensifies global warming.

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Aerial shot of Acre State showing forest fire, Amazonia, Brazil
© Mark Edwards / WWF-Canon



 

What are the causes of deforestation?

What is deforestation?

Deforestation is the process whereby natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning, either to use the timber or to replace the area for alternative uses.

What is the extent of deforestation?

12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute.

What are the effects of deforestation?

  • Reduced biodiversity: Deforestation and forest degradation can cause biodiversity to decline. When forest cover is removed, wildlife is deprived of habitat and becomes more vulnerable to hunting. Considering that about 80% of the world's documented species can be found in tropical rainforests, deforestation puts at risk a majority of the Earth’s biodiversity.
     
  • Release of greenhouse gas emissions: Deforestation causes 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of these, carbon dioxide emissions represent up to one-third of total carbon dioxide emissions released because of human causes. Find out more about climate change and deforestation.
     
  • Disrupted water cycles: As a result of deforestation, trees no longer evaporate groundwater, which can cause the local climate to be much drier.
     
  • Increased soil erosion: Deforestation accelerates rates of soil erosion, by increasing runoff and reducing the protection of the soil from tree litter.
     
  • Disrupted livelihoods: Millions of people rely directly on forests, through small-scale agriculture, hunting and gathering, and by harvesting forest products such as rubber. Deforestation continues to pose severe social problems, sometimes leading to violent conflict.
Malawi did not always look like this. Deforestation has changed the landscapes considerably over ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Helena TELKÄNRANTA
Malawi did not always look like this. Deforestation has changed the landscapes considerably over the decades
© WWF-Canon / Helena TELKÄNRANTA

Mediterranean and tropical montane cloud forests

Climate change is a signifcant cause of deforestation.
In the Mediterranean, summers have become hotter, with less and less humidity and more winds. These create ideal conditions for forest fires. There are also more intensive rains and storms during winter which leads to increased vegetation – which in summer dries out and becomes fuel for fires.

Observations suggest that tropical montane cloud forests are also highly at risk due to fewer, higher clouds and warmer temperatures, with serious impacts already underway.
 Velebit mixed beech, silver fir, spruce forests, Croatia.  / ©: WWF Mediterranean / E.Leonardi
Velebit mixed beech, silver fir, spruce forests, Croatia.
© WWF Mediterranean / E.Leonardi
Infographic showing major global exporters and importers of wood / ©: WWF / GOOD / SectionDesign
In this high-tech world of metal and plastic, it's easy to forget that many things are still made with good, old-fashioned wood. Countries with lots of forest stand to benefit from the lucrative timber trade, but at what cost to their ecological footprint? Here are five major timber exporters, and who is buying their wood.
© WWF / GOOD / SectionDesign
The Global Timber Trade, Who's Buying, Who's Selling?
In this high-tech world of metal and plastic, it's easy to forget that many things are still made with good, old-fashioned wood. Countries with lots of forest stand to benefit from the lucrative timber trade, but at what cost to their ecological footprint? Here are 5 major timber exporters, and who is buying their wood.

Virtual Gifts

Virtual Gifts / ©: WWF

Deforestation facts

    • 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year.
    • Deforestation is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Tropical forests, where deforestation is most prevalent, hold more than 210 gigatonnes of carbon.
    • 87% of global deforestation occurs in just 10 countries, with Brazil and Indonesia accounting for 51% of emissions from forest loss.

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