The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015 and are supposed to be met by the countries by 2030. Of the 17 SDGs, the domain of the 15th one is ‘Life on Land’. It is under the target 15.2 of this SDG that halting deforestation and management of forest resources have been linked with sustainable development.
Putting an end to deforestation and restoration of degraded forests is a part of SDG 15 and come under the target 15.2. The concerned target reads as follows: “By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.” While most of the SDG targets are yet to be achieved by 2030, this is an exceptional one that was set to be achieved in 2020.
The indicator and sub-indicators
The indicator to analyze the achievement of target 15.2 is to study the progress towards sustainable forest management (SFM). The main aim of SFM is to conserve and increase the economic, social, and environmental values of forests so that the present and future generations are benefitted.
To measure the progress towards various aspects of SFM, there are 5 sub-indicators which are as follows:
- The annual net change rate of forests
- Above-ground biomass stock in forest
- The proportion of forest area located within legally established protected areas
- The proportion of forest area under a long term forest management plan
- Forest area under an independently verified forest management certification scheme
As per UN FAO following is the status of forest across the world:
- Currently, about 31% of the world’s total land area is under forest and about 1/3rd of it comes in the category of primary forests, i.e., where the ecosystems have not been modified by human interference.
- It means the total forest area all over the world stands at 4.06 billion hectares.
- This number may seem huge but the distribution of forests across the world is extremely uneven. Russian Federation accounts of more than 20% or 815 million hectares of the world’s forests. Brazil comes next and occupies about 12% or 497 million hectares of the world’s total forests. Canada, USA, China, Australia, Congo, Indonesia, Peru, India – these 10 countries in total have 66% of the world’s total forest cover under them. Remaining only 33.9% of the forest cover lies in rest of the world.
The rate of deforestation:
- As per a UN FAO estimate, the rate of deforestation was as high as 10 million hectares every year between 2015-20.
- Meanwhile, the area under primary forests also got reduced by more than 80 million hectares since 1990.
- In total, 420 million hectares of forest became the victim of deforestation since 1990. However, the deforestation rate is currently on a decrease after reaching its peak in the 1980s.
- If the spatial distribution of world deforestation (2015) is observed, it is noticeable that Brazil has the highest deforestation rate of 1.7 million hectares per year. Next in the ranking list comes India and Indonesia with deforestation rates between 5 lakh hectares per year and 1 million hectares per year. Most of the South American countries (except Brazil) including Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, some African countries like Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, etc., Asian countries like China and Myanmar have deforestation rates higher than 1 lakh hectares per year but less than 5 lakh hectares per year. Russia, Canada, most of the European countries like Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Belarus, Switzerland, African countries like Ethiopia, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Somalia, etc. lose forests at rates lesser than 1 lakh hectares per year. The map below gives a more detailed picture.
- A noticeable trend is that some of the countries with the highest forest cover like Brazil and India have witnessed the highest rates of deforestation in recent years.
Some countries gaining forest – a silver lining:
If we see the net change in forest cover across the world, it can be observed that some countries are gaining forest at a rate highest than they are losing it. These include countries like Russia, India, China, Vietnam, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, and some more European countries. On the contrary, some countries losing forest cover at a rate higher than they are growing include Brazil, Tanzania, Indonesia, Peru, Colombia, Myanmar, Mozambique, and so on. Overall, it is observed that the South American countries are not only facing a high rate of deforestation but also at the same time they are not growing their forest cover sufficiently. The map in presentation shows which nations gained more forests than losing them (in green) and which nations lost more forests than gaining them (in red).
The reasons behind loss in forest cover and deforestation
- Expansion of agricultural activity (both commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture constituting 40% and 30% of tropical deforestation).
- Unsustainable management of forest resources due to activities like illegal logging which puts a negative impact on the ecosystems and community livelihoods.
- Occurrence of forest fire, mainly in the already degraded forests, which puts adverse impacts on the biodiversity of a region.
- Mining activity leads to issues like soil erosion, biodiversity loss, cutting down of trees due to the construction of infrastructures like roads, railway lines, etc.
- Deforestation or the loss of area under forest is not just a cause but also an effect of climate change. The ongoing climate crisis is leading to issues like an increase in forest fire, and desertification of tropical rainforests which in turn leads to deforestation.
- Excessive collection of fuelwood for domestic and commercial purposes also leads to degradation of forests and deforestation.
How can we get rid of deforestation?
- The first step is the establishment of protected areas such as national parks and other conservation areas.
- Forests provide a lot of products for our sustenance. Therefore, it is difficult to overcome the needs that forests fulfill. Under such circumstances, good governance and implementation of effective policies can maintain a balance between targets of conservation and demand for forest resources.
- The third way is the acknowledgment of the rights of the local and indigenous people to make them feel secure about their forest lands and prevent any conflict and related issues regarding forests.
- The creation of capacity for monitoring biodiversity outcomes can also help to prevent deforestation.
- Instead of inappropriate agricultural expansion on forest lands, opting for agroforestry and other eco-friendly agroecological practices is the way out. It means that as the production and consumption of food cannot be stopped, what we can do is change the pattern of food production.
- Meanwhile, we can also reduce the consumption of some forest resources to keep up with the Earth’s regeneration capacity. Mainly, the consumption of meat and dairy should be reduced as indirectly these contribute to deforestation to a great extent. WWF estimated that deforestation caused by livestock creates the discharge of 3.4% of current global emissions of carbon to the atmosphere every year. Consumption of palm oil containing products should also be reduced as obtaining it leads to large-scale illegal deforestation that 50% of products being sold in supermarkets contain palm oil.
- The purchase and consumption of sustainably certified products should be encouraged. Locally produced products and products with fair trade labels can be consumed instead of items that cause a high rate of deforestation.
It is our collective responsibility to make efforts at an individual & social level to reduce the rate of deforestation and increase the area under forest cover so that we don’t lag behind in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.