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deforestation and climate change facts

Deforestation and Climate Change Facts

deforestation and climate change facts
Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. (Photo: Antonio Scorza/Getty Images)

Forests cover around 30% of the earth’s land1. But shockingly around 18.7 million acres of forests are lost every year2. Subsequently, in total the world has lost 1.3 million square kilometres of forest between 1990 and 2016 alone – equivalent to 1,000 football fields of forest lost every hour3. This is called deforestation. It is one of the primary contributors to climate change. Here are some facts about deforestation and climate change you need to know.

What is deforestation?

Simply speaking, deforestation is the removal of trees to clear a forest so that the land can be used for other purposes. Given adequate time and good growing conditions, trees could eventually grow back, but at the alarming rate we are cutting them down, they can’t grow fast enough4

What are the causes of deforestation?

Forests that are cleared have been used for agriculture, farming, urbanization, mining or using wood for burning fuel, construction or manufacturing2

deforestation and climate change facts
The canopy of a forest in Italy’s Nazionale del Circeo. (Photo: Nicola /Flickr)

Why are forests important?

It’s simple. Forests are important to the life cycle of our planet. They play a vital role for the global environment, population and economy of our planet. Moreover, they provide habitats to millions of species, prevent soil from eroding away, produce and release oxygen into the air, store carbon within their bodies and help control the climate5. Forests are vital to our survival because they purify the air we breathe and the water we need, provide us with food and medicines, offer us shelter and help sustain our livelihoods5. But deforestation is putting an end to all of these necessary functions. 

Deforestation and climate change

Forests play an important role in the earth’s carbon cycle. Trees capture and store significant volumes of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be freed into the atmosphere. However, when the forests are cut, burned or removed in some way, not only does carbon absorption cease but also the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere6. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere act as a blanket that trap heat and warm up the earth. As a result, they contribute to global warming and climate change6

Consequently, these greenhouse gases, other than contributing to a warmer climate, also give rise to changes in weather patterns, extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising sea levels, and a range of other impacts2

10 Facts about deforestation and climate change:

  1. Around 13.2 million people across the world rely on forests for their livelihoods2.
  2. The Amazon rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen7.
  3. More than 121 natural remedies, that can be used as medicines, are found in the rainforest7.
  4. Up to 28,000 species are expected to become extinct by the next quarter of the century because of deforestation7.
  5. Unsustainable agricultural practices is the direct driver​ for about 80% percent of deforestation worldwide12.
  6. Deforestation and the destruction of forests are responsible for 15% of greenhouse gases releasing in the atmosphere2.
  7. Today, most deforestation is happening in the tropical regions of the world like the Amazon rainforest8.
  8. Just four commodities of our everyday life are responsible for the majority of tropical deforestation. These include beef, soy, palm oil and wood products. Collectively, they contribute to deforestation of an area about the size of Switzerland every year9
  9. Tropical trees can provide around 23% of climate mitigation necessary to offset climate change10.
  10. The Amazon forest covers 6.7 million square kilometres of land and is home to an astonishing array of species of plants and animals11.

What can we do better?

In a world faced by massive climate change challenges, our forests are one of our biggest weapons in reducing emissions. Governments and non-profit organizations like The World Wildlife Fund, are working hard to fight deforestation. But everyone can do their curb to fight deforestation. For example, planting more trees and restoring forests (known as afforestation and reforestation) is one way we can help absorb carbon dioxide and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Planting more trees can play an integral part of global measures to combat climate change. Above all, every patch of green counts.


  1. Bonan, G. (2008) “Forests and Climate Change: Forcings, Feedbacks, and the Climate Benefits of Forests”, Science, 320(5882), pp. 1444-1449. doi: 10.1126/science.1155121.
  2. Deforestation and Forest Degradation, Threats, WWF (2020). Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation#causes.
  3. World Bank Blogs. (2016). Five forest figures for the International Day of Forests. [online] Available at: https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/five-forest-figures-international-day-forests.
  4. Is Planting Trees Really Among The Best Solutions To Fight Climate Change? Not Always. (2020). Available at: https://youmatter.world/en/planting-trees-stop-climate-change/.
  5. The Importance of Forests, WWF (2020). Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/forests/importance_forests/.
  6. Karsenty, A. et al. (2003) “Forest and climate change. Instruments related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and their Potential for Sustainable Forest Management in Africa”, Rome (Italy) FAO, p. Available at: https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=XF2015016467.
  7. Rinkesh (2013). 51 Breathtaking Facts About Deforestation – Conserve Energy Future. [online] Conserve Energy Future. Available at: https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/various-deforestation-facts.php.
  8. Derouin, S. (2019). Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects. [online] livescience.com. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html.
  9. What’s Driving Deforestation? (2020). Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/whats-driving-deforestation
  10. By the Numbers: The Value of Tropical Forests in the Climate Change Equation (2018). Available at: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation.
  11. About the Amazon, WWF (2020). Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/.
  12. Butler, R. (2012) Agriculture causes 80% of tropical deforestationMongabay Environmental News. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2012/09/agriculture-causes-80-of-tropical-deforestation/.

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