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Urgent international action is required to halt and reverse massive levels of deforestation around the world in order to reach critical environmental targets, major new analysis has warned.

At the UN’s Cop26 conference in Scotland last November, 145 countries signed up to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.

One year on from the summit, “not a single global indicator is on track” to meet this target, The Forest Declaration Assessment warned.

The total level of deforestation around the world amounted to 6.8 million hectares in 2021 – an area roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland.

The destruction of these forests generated 3.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, worsening the climate crisis, as well as impacting ecosystems and reducing biodiversity.

Franziska Haupt, managing partner at Climate Focus – one of the organisations which made up the coalition of experts who contributed to the analysis – said: “The world can’t let 2030 pass like the failed 2020 milestone of the New York Declaration of Forests.”

”Governments and the private sector must embrace bold reforms to value standing forests in proportion to their worth. And they must work together with civil society to accelerate forest action, supported by transparency and accountability.”

The calls for action come as numerous studies warn deforestation means we are losing irreplaceable ancient woodlands which are uniquely capable of helping address the climate crisis.

Humans have cut down about a third of all forest on the planet in the last 6,000 years, with devastating effects on the ability of our world to absorb carbon dioxide.

Using deforestation data from 2018-2020 to create a baseline, the new assessment found that the decrease in global deforestation in 2021 did not match the pace needed to reach the 2030 goal to eliminate deforestation laid out in the Glasgow pledge.

Nonetheless, the research team pointed out “there has been exceptional progress by some countries”.

The assessment found that tropical Asia is the only region currently on track to halt deforestation by 2030, based largely on progress in Indonesia, which they said is the only country to lower its deforestation rate for each of the past five years, and its neighbour Malaysia.

But the team warned that while the rate of deforestation in tropical Africa and Latin America had decreased in recent years, those reductions are still insufficient to meet the 2030 goal.

Meanwhile, programmes to replant lost woodlands mean that alongside enormous deforestation, there have been increases in forest cover elsewhere with around 130.9 million hectares from 2000 to 2020 – an area slightly larger than that of Peru – with net gains in 36 countries.

But forest cover gains “will never offset forest loss in terms of carbon storage, biodiversity and ecosystems services”, the researchers said.

“The loss of primary forests cannot be replaced simply by reforestation or afforestation activities,” the report said.

“Forests that are currently intact need to remain intact.”

Fran Price, global forest practice lead at the World Wildlife Fund, which was also among the organisations which helped carry out the assessment, said without urgent action to reduce deforestation, climate targets will remain out of reach.

“The Forest Declaration Assessment sends another warning signal that efforts to halt deforestation are not enough and we’re not on track to achieve our 2030 goals.

“There is no pathway to meeting the 1.5C target set out in the Paris Agreement or reversing biodiversity loss without halting deforestation and conversion. It’s time for bold leadership and for daring solutions to reverse this alarming trend.”

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