21 Startling Deforestation Facts and Statistics
Discover shocking deforestation facts and statistics in this concise guide. Learn about the causes, impacts, and solutions to this pressing environmental issue.
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21 Startling Deforestation Facts and Statistics
Discover shocking deforestation facts and statistics in this concise guide. Learn about the causes, impacts, and solutions to this pressing environmental issue.
Published:
Loading reading time...
21 Startling Deforestation Facts and Statistics
Discover shocking deforestation facts and statistics in this concise guide. Learn about the causes, impacts, and solutions to this pressing environmental issue.
Published:
Last updated:
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These facts about deforestation should have you concerned

Did you know that deforestation is one of the biggest threats to our planet? The widespread cutting down of trees destroys natural habitats, contributes to climate change, and threatens the survival of countless species. 

Although countries and governments are acutely aware of this fact, we’re still witnessing unsustainable deforestation across the globe. 

Deforestation statistics in summary

  1. The world is covered by 4.06 billion hectares of forest. But, since 1990, deforestation escalated at an alarming rate, and the world has lost around 180 million hectares of previously forested lands.
  2. Around 16% of tree cover loss in the last 20 years has come at the expense of tropical primary forests.
  3. Deforestation increased to around 6.6 million hectares of forest loss in 2022 (a 4% increase from 2021).
  4. 4.1 million of this loss occurred in the tropics. By area alone in 2022, Brazil (43%), DR Congo (12.5%) and Bolivia (9%) witnessed the most significant losses, totalling around two-thirds of global deforestation. 
  5. Forests are a massive carbon sink with 861 gigatonnes of stored carbon. This stock is released as CO2 emissions when trees are cut down.
  6. Over the last 20 years, deforestation-related carbon dioxide emissions have averaged 8.1 billion tonnes yearly.
  7. Around 80% of total deforestation is caused by agricultural production. 
  8. Forty-four thousand animal species are on the IUCN Red List and are threatened with extinction.
  9. Forest fires account for around a quarter of yearly tree losses. 
  10. Global Forest Watch estimates that forest fires are burning twice as many trees as they did two decades ago. On a global scale, this is as much as 3 million hectares of tree loss per year. 
  11. Illegal logging is a troubling problem. In Indonesia, it’s estimated that a staggering 90% of logging is illegal. In Brazil, it accounts for 60-80% of deforestation.  
  12. From 2014 to 2020, Indonesian palm oil plantations increased by 4.25 million hectares, mainly at the expense of tropical forests.
  13. According to the UN, more than two billion people still rely on wood fuel for heating, cooking and boiling water. Estimates suggest that wood fuel accounts for around 27% of primary energy in Africa, 13% in Central and South America and 5% in Asia. 
  14. In 2007, the UNFCCC reported that fuel wood removals caused around 5% of all deforestation.
  15. In the Amazon, estimates suggest that 95% of deforestation occurs within 5.5 km of roads. A study by the non-profit Imazon identified 3.46 million kilometres of mostly undocumented roads running through the Amazon. Around 41% of the Amazon rainforest is already cut up by roads.
  16. However, there is positive news. Deforestation in the Amazon has declined since the 1990s and 2000s and fell by 50% in 2023.
  17. Mining was linked to 7% of tropical deforestation between 2001-2015. Around 80% of the forest has been lost to industrial mining in just four countries: Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, and Suriname. In Suriname, mining has overtaken agriculture as the primary cause of deforestation.
  18. Commodities tied to consumer goods and global supply chains are major culprits of deforestation. The international trade consumption from the EU alone is responsible for around 16% of tropical deforestation. This is only second behind China at 24% but surpasses the likes of the USA (7%) and India (9%). 
  19. In the EU, it’s thought that soy, palm oil and beef are the items with the most extensive tropical deforestation footprint. Other commodities on the list include wood products, cocoa and coffee. 
  20. The global palm oil production continues to rise yearly. In 2022/23, total palm oil production is estimated to be around 77 million metric tonnes. A significant increase from the 56 million metric tonnes produced in 2012/13. This surge has driven significant deforestation in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply 85% of palm oil globally. 
  21. Reforestation helps rebuild wildlife habitats, supports local communities and absorbs carbon dioxide. Although estimates vary, anywhere from 2 to 5 billion trees are planted annually. This equates to around 3.3 million hectares of forest. Although this is positive, it’s about half the number of hectares cleared each year, which isn’t sustainable. 
Vast cleared area with only a few tall pine trees remaining. The ground is dry and cracked, littered with felled trees and uprooted stumps, highlighting the devastating facts about deforestation's impact on forest ecosystems.

How much deforestation occurs each year?

Total hectares of forest worldwide

According to the latest available statistics from the FAO of the United Nations, the world is covered by 4.06 billion hectares of forest. This is around 31% of the total land mass. 

The table below shows the top 10 countries for forested areas, according to the UN’s FAO 2020 data, and the percentage distribution globally.  

CountryTotal forest area (million hectares)Percentage of world’s forest
Russia81520.1%
Brazil47012.2%
Canada3478.6%
United States3107.6%
China2205.4%
Australia1343.3%
DR Congo1263.1%
Indonesia922.3%
Peru721.8%
India721.8%

From the data above, over two thirds (66.2%) of global forests exist in just ten countries. 

This means just a handful of governments hold unequal power when protecting (or neglecting) the world’s trees. 

Interestingly, Monaco and Qatar are the only countries in the world with no forests. 

If you prefer to see this visually, I highly recommend the work of Visual Capitalist. They present essential climate and economic data beautifully.

Visual Capitalist - Countries with the Largest Forests
Source: Visual Capitalist

Which countries have the highest rates of forest loss?

Here are the top five countries responsible for the highest rates of primary forest loss in 2022. We’ve also listed what this loss represents as a percentage of total forest cover. 

CountryPrimary forest loss 2022 (hectares)Total forest area (hectares)Percentage of total forest area
Brazil1,700,000470,000,0000.36%
DR Congo513,000126,000,0000.4%
Bolivia386,00051,000,0000.75%
Indonesia230,00092,000,0000.25%
Peru161,00072,000,0000.22%

We see this with the list of countries with the highest rates of primary tree loss – four of the five (Brazil, DR Congo, Indonesia and Peru) are also in the top 10 for total tree cover. 

Yes, they have a lot of forests under their control, but if they manage their stock unsustainably, it will be a disaster for the world. 

Tropical forests are high risk

It is clear that the Amazon rainforest and the surrounding basin are being decimated by deforestation. Three of the top five countries affected are in South America’s tropical regions.

In Brazil,  the rate of deforestation increased by 15% from 2021 to 2022. 

The Congolian rainforest of Central Africa and Indonesian tropical forests in south-east Asia are also ravaged by unsustainable deforestation. 

The main reason for forest loss in all these regions is to make way for industrial agriculture and the accompanying infrastructure

Whether it’s pasture land for cattle or the planting of crops such as soy and palm oil, human activity is the main driver of deforestation.

Increasing rates of deforestation since 1990

Since 1990, deforestation rates have escalated, and the world has lost around 180 million hectares of forest. 

This is just over 1% of the total forest area or roughly the size of seven and a half United Kingdom’s.

According to Global Forest Watch, around 16% of tree cover loss in the last 20 years has come at the expense of tropical deforestation. 

With tropical forests being crucial ecologically rich areas, deforestation rates are having a huge impact on biodiversity.  

The primary drivers of deforestation are human activities and extreme climate events

The main causes of forest loss come from agricultural expansion and the conversion of forests to cropland and pasture for livestock. 

Timber logging, the growth of biofuels, mining, and activity from the oil and gas industry also cause deforestation.

25,500 square miles of forested land are lost annually

According to the Forest Declaration Assessment, despite government pledges to protect the world’s forests, deforestation levels increased to around 6.6 million hectares in 2022. To put it into context, this is approximately 25,500 square miles. 

This represents an increase of 4% from the 2021 deforestation stats. 

According to the World Resources Institute, tropical primary forest loss accounted for the most deforestation. Of the 6.6 million hectares of forest loss in 2022, 4.1 million occurred in the tropics.

By area alone in 2022, Brazil (43%), DR Congo (12.5%) and Bolivia (9%) witnessed the biggest losses, totalling around two-thirds of global deforestation. 

Several countries in Africa saw significant percentage increases in primary forest loss in 2022:

  • Ghana: 71% increase
  • Angola: 52% increase
  • Cameroon: 40% increase
  • Liberia: 23% increase

Looking at the bigger picture, the trend of primary rainforest loss in the tropics has been increasing since 2002. The average global primary forest loss rate at this time was 2.85 million hectares. Twenty years later, this average is over 4 million hectares. 

Effects of deforestation in tropical forests

Deforestation has a major impact on tropical regions across the globe. As forests are cleared for timber, agriculture and certain types of infrastructure, whole ecosystems are degraded.

This can then lead to negative feedback loops, which exacerbate the problem. 

Tropical rainforests are some of the most biologically rich areas on the planet. Deforestation destroys habitats and the loss of biodiversity and endemic wildlife. 

Clearing trees also results in increased greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a double-edged sword. At the same time as directly increasing carbon dioxide release, removing trees also means that less CO2 can be absorbed. This is how problems can escalate quickly.  

Even more, with less tropical tree cover, water cycles are disrupted and our all-important soils are more vulnerable to degradation and erosion from the elements. 

As soils become degraded, overall ecosystem health deteriorates and the risks of flooding and other extreme events increase. 

All these reasons are why forest conservation is so important, especially in the tropics. Preserving forests will support more biodiversity, regulate climate change, prevent soil loss, provide natural buffers against flooding and supply critical natural resources for nearby communities.

Overview of deforestation statistics in each continent

Alongside individual country data, we can see wider trends when deforestation is analysed over a continental level. 

Let’s take a look at regional deforestation in more detail, plus the associated global carbon dioxide emissions.

ast deforested area. The scene depicts a barren landscape where trees have been cleared, leaving behind stumps and scattered debris. The ground is uneven, marked by tire tracks and patches of eroded soil. In the distance, a few remaining trees outline the edge of the area, contrasting sharply with the cleared space. The sky is overcast, casting a somber light over the scene, highlighting the environmental impact of deforestation.

Which continents have the most tree cover loss?

According to the latest stats from the FAO, Europe (including Russia) has the largest forest area. In Europe, trees cover 1,017 million hectares of land.

This is up around 40% of total European land area and is higher than the global average of 31%. Further, the amount of tree cover in Europe has increased by around 2% since 1990.

As well as Europe, we’ve also seen percentage increases in tree cover in other continents.

  • In Central and North America, forest area has increased from 705 million hectares in 2005 to 753 million hectares in 2020. This is an increase of around 7%. If you go back a little further though to 1990, forest areas in North and Central America show a minor decrease of 0.34%. 
  • In Asia, total tree cover has increased from 571 million hectares (2005) to 623 million hectares (2020). An increase of 9%. Although this is good news for all-round tree cover, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, non-native tree species are becoming more common in Europe and Asia.
  • In the continents of South America and Africa, a large percentage of tree cover has been lost since 1990. In Latin America, over 13% of trees have been deforested. 

In Brazil, for example, it has been an up-and-down picture. Between 2003 and 2011, deforestation in the Amazon dropped significantly under President Lula from 7 million to 1.1 million acres. 

However, since (now former) President Bolsonaro took over in 2019, deforestation rates have rapidly risen. In good news for the Amazon forest, Lula was re-elected as President in January 2023 and vowed to end deforestation.

However, Africa, at just over 14%, has seen the most significant loss of trees in this period. In terms of individual countries, the Ivory Coast has had the highest relative loss of trees at 64% since 1990! 

Other countries in Africa that have significantly contributed to tree loss include 

  • Niger (-44%)
  • Gambia (-41%)
  • Chad (-36%)
  • Mauritania (-34%)
  • Somalia (-28%)

For further info, take a look at this interesting graphic from Visual Capitalist.

Greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation

Greenhouse gases from deforestation are significant when calculated as part of a country’s carbon footprint. 

By analysing per capita emissions data and international trade flows, the distribution of deforestation emissions can be broadly mapped through global supply chains

For example, a consumer in the UK may drive deforestation indirectly by importing beef or soybeans produced on cleared land in South America. 

Global demand, international trade exposure, and domestic policies cause forest degradation and land use change

Governments must strengthen forest protection policies in productive forest areas, such as tropical countries. We’ve seen how this can work with the administration changes in Brazil, which has caused deforestation rates to both significantly reduce and escalate in recent years. 

Importing countries can reduce emissions per capita by altering sourcing patterns or by providing incentives for sustainable production closer to home.

Ultimately, reducing emissions from deforestation requires joint action across borders and jurisdictions. Consumers, businesses and governments must improve transparency and work collaboratively to uphold social and environmental standards.

How much carbon dioxide is released annually?

Forests hold around 861 gigatonnes of carbon stock according to the WRI. The carbon is stored in the tree biomass and the soils around root systems. 

When trees are cut down, some of this stored carbon gets released into the atmosphere. 

Over the last 20 years, carbon dioxide emissions as a result of deforestation have averaged 8.1 billion tonnes per year. With heavy tree loss in the tropics, some of these regions are becoming net sources of CO2 rather than a net sink as they should be. 

The biggest source of carbon emissions comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which is estimated to have emitted around 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022. 

Agricultural land replacing intact forests

Expanding agricultural land is the leading driver of deforestation, especially in the tropics. 

As global populations in cities continue to grow, more intact forests are converted to croplands and pastures to meet industrial scales of food production. Around 80% of total deforestation is caused by agricultural production. 

Replacing rich, biodiverse forests with commercial farms and cattle ranching has major ecological consequences. 

Land clearing for agriculture usually involves ‘slash-and-burn’ practices. Not only does this release vast amounts of CO2, it also degrades soil quality over time.

As soil quality decreases, we see a lot of subsequent negative consequences to ecosystems and extreme events. 

The resulting fragmentation of habitats and forests isn’t suitable for wildlife populations, including endangered species. Fragmentation limits natural movements and reduces gene pool sizes, making it easier for further deforestation to occur.

Impact on biodiversity

Large-scale deforestation has a devastating impact on biodiversity. This is exacerbated in the global tropics but is true in the cooler boreal regions too.  

How many animals are endangered by deforestation?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 44,000 species are on the Red List and are at risk of extinction.   

With the tropics being such species-rich areas for both plants and animals, these regions are seeing the biggest changes through habitat destruction.

Deforestation has particularly affected animals include the Sumatran tiger, orangutan, mountain gorilla, chimpanzee and giant panda. 

Orangutan fleeing from a forest where men are cutting down trees with chainsaws. The scene captures the urgency and panic of the orangutan as they rush away from the noise and destruction. In the background, loggers are visible, actively cutting through the trees with their equipment, oblivious to the chaos they're causing in the animal habitat. The contrast between the fleeing wildlife and the ongoing deforestation highlights the environmental impact of human activity on natural ecosystems.

Forest fires

Forest fires account for around a quarter of total tree losses each year. 

According to the latest data from Global Forest Watch, forest fires are worsening and are burning twice as many trees as they did two decades ago. On a global scale, this is as much as 3 million hectares of tree loss per year. 

A raging forest fire. The scene is intense and dramatic, with towering flames engulfing trees and thick smoke billowing into the sky. The fire's glow illuminates the surrounding forest, casting a fiery orange light on the scene. Sparks fly through the air, and the heat distortion is visible. The perspective is from a safe distance, capturing the scale of the disaster and the power of nature's fury. The sky is darkened by smoke, creating a stark contrast with the bright flames.

Our reasons for cutting down trees

In 2022, 6.6 million hectares of forest was removed. But what are all these trees being cut down for?

Logging

Logging is a big cause of global deforestation. In particular, illegal logging is still a major problem.

Illegal logging activity in a dense forest. The scene shows a group of loggers cutting down trees with chainsaws, without any safety gear or authorization. Fallen trees and timber are scattered around, indicating the scale of the operation. The background features a lush forest, contrasting sharply with the cleared area. The atmosphere is tense, as the activity is clearly unauthorized, with no signs or permissions in sight. The image captures the environmental damage being done, highlighting the issue of illegal deforestation.

Although figures state that up to 80% of deforestation is due to the expansion of agriculture and farming, other research suggests that as much as 60% of forest loss could be caused by other means, such as logging. 

For example, in Canada logging for timber is a multi-billion dollar industry and is a much bigger cause of tree loss than agriculture.

However, in the tropics, illegal deforestation is a much greater problem. In Indonesia, it’s estimated that a staggering 90% of logging is illegal. In Brazil, illegal logging accounts for 60-80% of deforestation.  

Biofuels

Biofuel production is causing increasingly greater levels of deforestation. Biofuel policies of regions, such as the EU are driving this.

Some studies suggest that palm and soy oil production may increase by over 75% to meet demand. In 2019, the EU was the second largest importer of crude palm oil, which is used to make ‘biodiesel’. However, that is now being scaled back, and palm oil will no longer count as green fuel. 

Other countries and regions still incentivise biofuel production to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. This is causing more forests to be cleared. 

For instance, Indonesia’s palm oil expansion for biodiesel feeds global demand, but is destroying carbon-rich peatlands and wildlife habitats.

From 2014 to 2020, Indonesian palm oil plantations increased by 4.25 million hectares, largely at the expense of tropical forests. 

For fuel

Wood remains a dominant fuel source in many developing regions. According to the UN, more than two billion people still rely on wood fuel for heating, cooking and boiling water.

Estimates suggest that wood fuel accounts for around 27% of primary energy in Africa, 13% in Central and South America and 5% in Asia. 

In most cases, such dependency on forests for wood fuel exceeds reforestation rates. Unless wood stock is managed sustainably, widespread deforestation is inevitable.

Back in 2007, the UNFCCC reported that fuel wood removals caused around 5% of all deforestation. 

Roads and highways

Roads and highways open up access to remote forests and are responsible for significant tropical deforestation. 

In the Amazon, estimates suggest that 95% of deforestation occurs within 5.5 km of roads. A study by the non-profit Imazon identified 3.46 million kilometres of mostly undocumented roads running through the Amazon.

It’s thought around 41% of the Amazon rainforest is already cut up by roads. 

Road construction and infrastructure development over pristine forests lead to new deforestation and increase fire risk. It also fragments the landscape, which causes issues for wildlife while making it easier for future deforestation and development to occur.

Mining

Most mining-related deforestation is caused by coal and gold. It also comes from extracting other minerals such as iron ore, bauxite and copper. 

To build a mine, huge areas of forests are cleared for pits, storage, roads, infrastructure and worker accommodation. 

Mining was linked to 7% of tropical deforestation between 2001-2015. Around 80% of forest lost to industrial mining has occurred in just four countries: Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana and Suriname. In Suriname, mining has overtaken agriculture as the primary cause of deforestation.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend in downsizing protected areas to make way for mining. For example, in Tanzania, the Selous Game Reserve has been reduced to make way for uranium mining, which is most commonly used to power nuclear reactors.

If deforestation due to mining is to decrease, countries need to put serious regulations in place that will not be rolled back on. 

Which food, drinks and consumer goods are the biggest drivers

Commodities tied to consumer goods and global supply chains are key culprits of deforestation today. 

The international trade consumption from the EU alone is responsible for around 16% of tropical deforestation. This is only second behind China at 24%, but surpasses the likes of the USA (7%) and India (9%). 

In the EU, it’s thought that soy, palm oil and beef are the items with the biggest tropical deforestation footprint. Other commodities high up on the list include wood products, cocoa and coffee. 

With rising middle-class consumption patterns, demand for these goods will continue to increase unless companies and governments commit to transparent and deforestation-free supply chains. 

For consumers, it’s best to support certified sustainable products where possible. 

Palm oil

The global production of palm oil continues to rise yearly. In 2022/23, total palm oil production is estimated to be around 77 million metric tonnes. A significant increase from the 56 million metric tonnes produced in 2012/13. 

A photorealistic view of a vast palm oil plantation under a clear blue sky. The image captures the dense rows of palm trees, their fronds creating a textured green canopy. In the background, the horizon meets the clear blue sky, emphasizing the extensive scale of the plantation. The perspective is from the ground level, providing a viewer's eye view that highlights the orderly arrangement of the trees and the narrow paths between them, used for maintenance and harvesting

This surge has driven significant deforestation in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia which supply 85% of palm oil globally. 

This is causing vast areas of biodiverse tropical forests and carbon-rich peatlands to be cleared for industrial-scale palm plantations to meet rising food, cosmetics and biofuel demand. 

In better news, the area of certified sustainable palm oil production is also increasing, up to around 1.7 million hectares. Stronger supply chain monitoring and government conservation policies are essential.

Impact of import demand

It’s arguable that deforestation isn’t a production problem, but more of a demand problem. 

It’s clear that import demand from the EU’s developed countries, the USA, China and Japan, fuels commodity-driven deforestation in tropical forests. 

For example, India and China have significantly increased palm oil imports, facilitating the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Growing international trade is responsible for deforestation, from beef and leather to rubber and timber. 

Stats relating to solutions

There are a number of global efforts underway to prevent deforestation through reforestation initiatives, community-centred conservation, supply chain sustainability and country level policies.

Positive trends

Deforestation in the Amazon has declined since the 1990s and 2000s and fell by 50% in 2023.

Chart highlighting that Amazon deforestation is now much lower than in the 1990s or 2000s. Source: Nat Bullard
(Source: Nat Bullard)

Reforestation

There’s been a huge surge in efforts to replant trees and forests, known as reforestation. Reforestation helps rebuild wildlife habitats, supports local communities and absorbs carbon dioxide. 

Although estimates vary, anywhere from 2 to 5 billion trees are planted annually. This equates to around 3.3 million hectares of forest.

Although this is positive, it’s around half the number of hectares that are cleared each year, which isn’t sustainable. 

The top 5 countries currently planting the most trees, according to 8billiontreees.com, are: 

  • China
  • India
  • Ethiopia
  • Pakistan
  • Mexico

The major challenge for reforestation is that it’s almost impossible to physically plant enough trees by hand of the magnitude needed to overcome deforestation. 

It’s also not as simple as throwing seeds on the ground. Before planting, saplings are grown in a nursery, then transferred and planted out. 

Some say that a better approach is to let natural regeneration take its course. In Europe, we’re seeing this through the rewilding movement. However, it means people lose an element of control over proceedings, which is often not fancied by the powers that be. 

Community engagement

Involving local and Indigenous communities in forest conservation and management programs can lead to positive outcomes. 

Companies such as Eden Reforestation Projects work with local communities to restore landscapes, create jobs and protect forest ecosystems. 

With reforestation efforts across Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nepal, thousands of local residents have been employed to plant trees and maintain stewardship over areas to promote sustainable use.

Engaging communities with reforestation is clearly the best approach to take for long-term social and environmental success.

Fairtrade

Fairtrade certification programmes incentivise sustainable farming practices that help curb unsustainable commodity crop expansion. 

Standards linked to fair trade promote agroforestry, smallholders and improved social conditions alongside reduced chemical inputs. All of this can help reduce pressure on forests.

Fairtrade cooperatives can collaborate and share data to reduce deforestation risks and better manage forest landscapes. An example of this is using satellite monitoring of certified forested areas growing coffee and cacao. 

Monitoring such forests assures commercial partners and consumers that forest landscapes are being protected and managed better. 

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Author

Ben Hardman
Ben Hardman is a professional writer and the creator of sustainable living website, Tiny Eco Home Life. Away from the laptop, Ben loves spending time in the natural environment with his young family and Murphy the cocker spaniel.

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