Despite the fact that deforestation is the second leading contributor of carbon emissions worldwide after the burning of fossil fuels, countries currently have few incentives for preserving their forests. However, deforestation is finally gaining attention in international discussions on climate change.
Once rainforests covered 14% of the earth's land surface, now they cover only 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years, causing unknown effects to the global climate and the elimination of the majority of plant and animal species on the planet.
Every year, around 150,000 square kilometres (approximately 57,000 square miles) of tropical rainforest, equivalent to the size of England and Wales, are destroyed (Rainforest Foundation, 2011). In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world's tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, the main reason being its economic value. Unfortunately rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by short-sighted governments, multi-national logging companies and land owners.
Beyond conversion for subsistence agriculture, activities like logging, clearing for cattle pasture and commercial agriculture are sizeable contributors to deforestation on a global scale. Agricultural fires typically used for land-clearing are increasingly spreading outside cultivated areas and into degraded rainforest regions. The plants and animals that used to live in these forests either die or must find a new forest to call their home.
Some scientists estimate that we are losing over 130 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As more and more rainforest species disappear, so does the opportunity to gain useful knowledge and the potential cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, more than 120 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived directly from rainforest ingredients and scientists have tested less than 1% of these tropical plants for their medicinal attributes. (Rainforest Rescue, 2011).
A short film about deforestation
This film has been 'borrowed' from The Princes Rainforest Project and has been narrated by Prince Charles, it presents the issue of global deforestation in a clear, simple and concise way.