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Tropical Forest Destruction Accelerated in 2020

Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the institute, said that what happened in the Pantanal was just one example of global warming’s increasing role in forest loss. “The most ominous signal from the 2020 data is the number of instances where forests themselves have fallen victim to climate change,” she said. “Nature has been whispering this risk to us for a long time, but now she is shouting.”

Last year, anecdotal reports from Brazil and other countries suggested that deforestation was rising because of the pandemic, as the health crisis hampered governments’ efforts to enforce bans on clear-cutting, and as workers who lost their jobs because of the downturn migrated out of cities to rural areas to farm. But Mr. Taylor said the analysis showed “no obvious systemic shift” in forest loss as a result of the pandemic.

If anything, the crisis and the resulting global economic downturn should have led to less overall forest loss, as demand, and prices, for palm oil and other commodities fell. While falling demand may have helped improve the situation in Indonesia and a few other countries, Ms. Seymour said that globally it was “astonishing that in a year that the global economy contracted somewhere between 3 and 4 percent, primary forest loss increased by 12 percent.”


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