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Tropical forest the size of England destroyed in 2018: Report

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Humans destroyed an expanse of tropical forest nearly the size of England last year, the third largest decline since 2001

PARIS Last year, humanity destroyed an expanse of tropical forest nearly the size of England, the third largest decline since global satellite data became available in 2001, researchers reported yesterday.

The pace of the loss is staggering - the equivalent of 30 football fields disappearing every minute of every day, or 12 million hectares a year.

Almost a third of that area, some 36,000 square kilometres, was pristine primary rainforest, according to the annual assessment from scientists at Global Forest Watch, based at the University of Maryland.

"For the first time, we can distinguish tree cover loss within undisturbed natural rainforests, which contain trees that can be hundreds, even thousands, of years old," said team manager Mikaela Weisse.

Rainforests are the planet's richest repository of wildlife and a critical sponge for soaking up planet-heating CO2.

Despite a slew of counter-measures at both the national and international level, deforestation has continued largely unabated since the beginning of the century.

Global forest loss peaked in 2016, fuelled in part by El Nino weather conditions and uncontrolled fires in Brazil and Indonesia.

The main drivers are the livestock industry and large-scale commodity agriculture - palm oil in Asia and Africa, soy beans and biofuel crops in South America. Small-scale commercial farming - of cocoa, for example - can also lead to the clearing of forests.

A quarter of tropical tree cover loss in 2018 occurred in Brazil, with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia each accounting for about 10 per cent.

Malaysia and Madagascar also saw high levels of deforestation last year.

Nearly a third of primary forest destruction took place in Brazil (13,500 km sq), with the Democratic Republic of Congo (4,800 km sq), Indonesia (3,400 km sq), Colombia (1,800 km sq) and Bolivia (1,500 km sq) rounding out the top five.

Madagascar lost two per cent of its entire rainforest in 2018.

"The world's forests are now in the emergency room," said Ms Frances Seymour, a distinguished senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, an environmental policy think tank based in Washington DC.

"The health of the planet is at stake, and band aid responses are not enough," she added.

"With every hectare lost, we are that much closer to the scary scenario of runaway climate change." Globally, forests absorb about 30 per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, just over 11 billion tonnes of C02 a year.

Oceans are also a major "sink", soaking up another 23 per cent.

Burning or clear-cutting vast tracts of tropical forest not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, it reduces the size of the sponge that can absorb CO2.

One bright spot in the report was Indonesia, which lost 3,400 km sq of primary forest in 2018 - a 63 per cent drop from 2016. - AFP