Forests are incredibly important for our well-being and the health of our planet. They are crucial for food, livelihoods, clean air and water, wildlife habitat, rainfall regulation, and flood protection.

Unfortunately, these lush green ecosystems are in imminent danger. From us. 

Humans are destroying one of Earth’s most important natural resources at an alarming rate. Trees are being chopped down at the equivalent of 27 soccer fields per minute. That means we’re cutting down more than 15 billion trees each year. 

As the climate crisis worsens, deforestation could push forest loss to a tipping point. Meaning that if we continue cutting down trees, forests may no longer be able to self-regulate and their eco-systems could essentially collapse. We’re talking less rain in tropical forests, future pandemics, and 10,000 extinct animal species.

It’s a tragedy. But it’s not inevitable. 

We have the power to protect existing forests from further harm and protect them for the future. By taking action now, we can avoid a planetary disaster and make sure forests thrive for generations.

What Is Deforestation?

Deforestation is the process of clearing or removing forests or wooded areas by human activities. The deforestation definition is the purposeful clearing of forested land. It happens when we clear land for farming or livestock and use timber for fuel, construction, or manufacturing.

Sometimes deforestation occurs on a small scale, like when individuals or communities clear trees for fuel, farming, or building materials. It also happens on a large scale because of industrial activities like logging, expanding agriculture, and building infrastructure for a growing population.

3 Big Facts You Should Know About Deforestation

What Are the Causes of Deforestation?

Surprise! It’s us. Humans are the cause of deforestation. We clear forests to create more agricultural land, especially for large-scale commercial farming, or for mining and logging. 

Agriculture is actually the leading driver of deforestation worldwide. In fact, since 1970, cattle ranching drove the vast majority of Amazon deforestation

People around the world mainly clear forests for food production purposes. Red meat producers clear vast swathes of forest to graze their livestock, and crops like soybeans and palm oil aren’t far behind. This is often driven by the global demand for cheap meat and food.

Deforestation has other causes, too. Cutting down trees for commercial purposes, like timber production, furniture manufacturing, or paper production, is one of them. So are mining operations, infrastructure projects, and the expansion of cities and towns, driven by population growth.

What Are the Effects of Deforestation?

Deforestation effects include climate change, increased greenhouse gasses, extinct animals, and a whole list of other negative impacts.

Forests play a crucial role in fighting climate change. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, acting as carbon sinks. Over the last 40 years, forests have absorbed about 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon emissions caused by humans. The Amazon rainforest alone has absorbed 25% of this total amount.

Clearing forests releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Deforestation accounts for about 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a major driver of climate change.

Deforestation affects diverse forest ecosystems, which are home to countless plants, animals, and microorganisms. The destruction of these natural habitats puts many species in danger. Up to 28,000 species could go extinct in the next 25 years due to deforestation. 

An estimated 420 million hectares (1 billion+ acres) of forest have been lost since 1990. We are cutting down trees at a gradually decreasing rate, but we still lose a massive 10 million hectares of forests each year. About 17% of the Amazon rainforest alone has been destroyed over the past 50 years.

Who Is Most Harmed by Deforestation?

Deforestation impacts us all, but certain groups are especially vulnerable. Indigenous people and local communities who live near forests suffer the most immediate impacts. The livelihoods of the more than 1.6 billion people who depend on forest areas are under direct threat — and these groups deal with the most consequences of deforestation. 

Many communities, especially those in developing countries, rely on forests for their economy and livelihoods. Forests provide valuable resources like timber, non-timber products, and tourism opportunities. Communities that depend on forested watersheds for drinking water and agriculture can also be greatly affected. 

Plus, about 35% of protected natural areas are owned, managed, used, or occupied by Indigenous and local communities. But these communities — the people who know best how to live in balance with their forests — are rarely part of the large-scale deforestation conversation. Deforestation threatens their land rights, disrupts their way of life, and can lead to the loss of cultural heritage and identity.

What’s the Link Between Deforestation and Extreme Poverty?

Deforestation and extreme poverty are very closely linked. Many people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for their livelihoods. In fact, 90% of people who live in extreme poverty depend on forests for their survival. Forests provide essential resources like timber and fertile land for agriculture.

When forests are destroyed or harmed, it can hurt the economy and resources that these communities rely on. 

The soil erosion, reduced water quality, and loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation can make it more challenging for Indigenous people and local communities to sustain themselves. It also makes them more vulnerable to food insecurity, and without other income sources, they may become trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Who Is Most Responsible for Deforestation?

We all are. Deforestation is of course, however, a complex issue with many contributors. Large-scale agricultural industries, timber companies, governments, infrastructure developers, and even everyday consumers all have some responsibility. This is because activities like clearing forests for agriculture, logging, weak laws, and meeting the demands of the global market all contribute to deforestation.

This is why we must all collaborate to address deforestation: Governments, industries, and consumers must work together. Sustainable forest management, responsible sourcing, conservation efforts, and improved governance are important first steps we must take. By addressing these sustainable practices, we can make a difference in protecting our forests.

What Can We Do to Stop Deforestation?

Stopping deforestation requires collective action and a combination of strategies at different levels. First, we need to encourage and support sustainable land use practices. Practices like agroforestry, sustainable agriculture, and responsible logging will all make a difference. These approaches aim to balance meeting our society's needs while minimizing harm to the environment.

It’s also important to promote responsible sourcing practices in industries that contribute to deforestation. We as consumers can do this by eating less meat, and supporting companies that commit to sustainable production and a trackable supply chain.

We also need to take action to improve governance systems and enforce laws to combat illegal logging, land encroachment, and corruption. Effective governance ensures forest protection, regulation enforcement, and recognition of land rights for Indigenous peoples and local communities.

At the same time, we need to push for conservation efforts and initiatives to replant forests. We can help by protecting existing forests through national parks, protected areas, and conservation initiatives. Forest renewal programs can also restore degraded lands and promote the regrowth of forests.

We must also include and empower Indigenous peoples and local communities in decisions about land use and forest management.

To address deforestation, governments, industries, consumers, and society at large must collaborate. By taking these steps and working together, we can make a big impact in fighting deforestation and protecting our valuable forests.

Global Citizen Explains

Defend the Planet

Deforestation: What Is It and What Does It Mean for the Planet? Here’s What to Know.

By Angi Varrial