Despite Deforestation Pledges Tropical Primary Forest Loss Increased in 2022

The tropics lost 10% more primary rainforest in 2022 than in 2021, according to new data from the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute’s (WRI), Global Forest Watch (GFW). However the research returned promising findings for Asia.

Tropical primary forest loss in 2022 totaled 4.1 million hectares, the equivalent of losing 11 football fields of forest per minute. This forest loss produced 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to India’s annual fossil fuel emissions.

While the “Asian Lungs” of Indonesia and Malaysia managed to keep rates of primary forest loss near record-low levels, primary forest loss increased in the two countries with the most tropical forest, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it rapidly increased in Ghana and Bolivia.

According to the GFW report, a good deal of the primary forest loss in Indonesia is within areas that Indonesia classifies as secondary forest and other land cover (e.g., mixed dry land agriculture, estate crop, plantation forest, shrub and others).

This is because the GFW primary forest definition is different than Indonesia’s official primary forest definition and classification. GFW’s statistics on the loss of primary forests in Indonesia are therefore considerably higher than the official Indonesian statistics on deforestation in primary forests.

To better understand the 2022 findings and these data differences, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) and WRI are collaborating on a joint analysis which will be published this year.

Promising Findings for Asia

However, preliminary findings corroborate 107 thousand ha of loss within Indonesia’s official forest land cover classes with a patch size larger than two hectares. Less than 12% of this loss was within areas officially classified as “primary forest” in Indonesia.

Government policies and corrective actions have contributed to this reduction, in line with reaching Indonesia’s target of Net Sink (meaning negative CO2 emissions) from the forestry and other land use sectors by 2030.

Increased fire prevention and monitoring efforts, termination of granting new licenses on primary forest or peatland (moratorium), law enforcement, and a renewed commitment not only to protect and restore peatlands but also to rehabilitate mangroves have led to fewer fires and less primary forest loss.

Relatively wet conditions and cloud-seeding efforts from the government and private sector may have helped with fire suppression in Indonesia. On-the-ground community efforts to suppress fire have also contributed. Compulsory and voluntary corporate commitments also appear to be effective.

In Malaysia, the report says primary forest loss remained low in 2022 and has leveled off in recent years.Corporate and government action also appears to be contributing.

No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation (NDPE) commitments now cover the majority of the palm oil sector and in 2018, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) strengthened its certification requirements.

In addition, the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Board was formed in 2015 to certify sustainably grown palm oil. In 2017, the government of Malaysia mandated MSPO certification starting in 2020. Positive government action has continued in more recent years, with a plantation area cap established in 2019 through 2023, and new forestry laws enacted in 2022 to stiffen penalties for illegal logging.

Protecting forests remains one of the most effective ways to mitigate global climate change and protect the people and biodiversity that depend on them.

Unfortunately, while some countries have shown promising results to reduce forest loss, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the WRI, GFW report concludes that others have seen continued activities and policies that are causing acceleration of deforestation in critical areas.