More than 3.6 million hectares of pristine tropical rainforest were destroyed in 2018, according to satellite analysis, with beef, chocolate and palm oil among the main causes, the media reported on Thursday.
The forests store huge amounts of carbon and are teeming with wildlife, making their protection critical to stopping runaway climate change and halting a sixth mass extinction. But deforestation is still on an upward trend, researchers have said.
Although 2018 losses were lower than in 2016 and 2017, when dry conditions led to large fires, last year was the next worst since 2002, when such records began, reports the Guardian.
Clearcutting of primary forest by loggers and cattle ranchers in Brazil dominated the destruction, including invasions into indigenous lands where uncontacted tribes live. Losses were also high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Indonesia.
Indonesia is the only major country where government protections appear to be significantly reducing the losses.
Ghana and Ivory Coast recorded the biggest percentage rises in rainforest destruction, driven by gold mining and cocoa farming.
“We are nowhere near winning this battle,” said Frances Seymour from the Washington-based World Resources Institute, part of the Global Forest Watch (GFW) network, which produced the analysis.
“The world’s forests are now in the emergency room – it is death by a thousand cuts… For every hectare lost, we are one step closer to the scary scenario of runaway climate change.”
The analysis looked at all tree losses in the tropics, but focused on primary forests which are untouched, store the most carbon and have the highest populations and variety of wildlife.
Their destruction is seen as largely irreversible, even over decades.