Each of us is generally familiar with the sight of our planetary home from space. Ever since our early school years, we’ve been looking at pictures of Earth. That is, we imagine the vast blue expanse of ocean contrasted by the rich green shapes of continents.
This image of the earth, however popular, may not be entirely accurate. The green we associate with the face of our land comes primarily from the vast expanses of forest across major continents. Unfortunately, satellite images of once densely forested areas have revealed an unsettling truth. The green in these images has been receding over the years as deforestation clears away foliage for human industry. In the last 50 years, even the great Amazon forest lost around 17% of its trees, according to the World Wildlife Fund. (1) Without intervention, forests across the world will continue to dwindle and disappear. Luckily, one European nation is paving the way to stop deforestation in its tracks.
Norway’s Global Stand on Deforestation
In 2016, Norway became the first country to ban deforestation as a part of national law. (2) The pledge was recommended by Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment as part of the country’s Action Plan on Nature Diversity. Furthermore, Norway has declared that any company that contributes to deforestation will not be supported by the government. (3) Though this step is monumental, it is not the first major contribution to forest conservation made by Norway in the last decade. To be clear, Norway is actually deforested by about 58 square kilometers each year. Though this is very small, it does still count as deforestation. However, because they are committed to expanding their forests and reducing massive deforestation industries such as logging, their total forest area remains relatively constant, if not increases, each year. (5)
Between 2011-2015, the Norwegian government contributed a total of $250 million to protect the forests of Guyana. WorldWatch Institute reported that the South American country’s forests were in danger due to the excessive logging industry. (4) In 2008, Norway donated $1 billion to Brazil to combat deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. Largely due to this contribution, Brazil saw a 75 percent decrease in deforestation by 2015. An estimated total of 33,000 square miles of the rainforest was saved. (3)
Why It Matters
Forests cover some 31 percent of the land on Earth. The trees in these forests produce oxygen by removing carbon dioxide from the air. Without this crucial function, greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide) builds within the atmosphere and can affect climate long-term. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that deforestation is responsible for up to 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. (1) Deforestation contributes to climate change, but it can also disrupt livelihoods. The World Wildlife Fund estimates there are 125 billion people who rely on forests for food, fresh water, clothing, medicine, and shelter.
Removal of trees can disrupt the water cycle of the region, resulting in changes in precipitation, river flow, and flooding. Changes in water cycles create accelerated erosion. Without tree roots to anchor fertile soil in an area, deforested farmlands are quickly stripped of nutrient-rich soils. This means farmers need to move on from their fields more quickly, perhaps leading to further deforestation.
Forests also provide homes and habitats to some of the world’s most exotic wildlife. Rainforest and woodland species often cannot survive outside of their natural habitats. The rapid deforestation of their homes threatens many with extinction.
At present, around 30,000 square miles (18.7 million acres) of forests are lost each year. To put that into perspective, that’s a rate equal to about 48 football fields every minute. The reality we face if this rate continues uncontested should be frightening to all of us. Thankfully, world governments like Norway are paving the way for global engagement against deforestation. With hard work and commitment from those who can help, we can all hope to see our forests flourish for years to come.