State of the Rainforest

The global figures for deforestation are contested: Two main sources of data, the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment (2010) and a remote sensing study by University of Maryland (2013), use different technologies and definitions of forest and display huge variation between figures (see section 2). We simply don’t know how much rainforest is left on Earth, and how fast it disappears. Both sources agree, however, that tropical forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

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Humankind can celebrate impressive progress in the last generation: People live longer, fewer children die, more people learn to write and read, and the percentage of people in extreme poverty has decreased substantially.

There are, however, two major areas where we have no reason to applaud: The escalating degradation of ecosystems, including loss of irreplaceable animal and plant species, and the escalating emissions of greenhouse gases.The tropical rainforest is a thermometer of the state of the planet.

More than half of the terrestrial plant and animal species live there. It is “the main biological library of the earth”. Most of the information in this library is not even known to science.  The forests also contain and store enormous amounts of carbon. The yearly destruction of the tropical forests results in emissions of CO2 equal to the emissions from all cars in the world. The library burns. This is why the state of the rainforest concerns the whole world. Norwegians and people in other non-tropical countries may choose to live as if this did not concern them – but only for a while. As expressed by King Harald of Norway “If the rainforests disappear,they will not come back. Then the world will be an altered place  to live”.

For the peoples who have lived in and of the rainforests for hundreds or thousands of years the destruction of the rainforest is already a matter of life or death. This publication is dedicated to them.

Rainforest peoples speak close to half of all the languages in the world.  They have knowledge both of the mysteries and the everyday necessities in the forests – a knowledge that is lost at an alarming rate. And they are the true guardians of the rainforests. Empirical studies show that where the indigenous peoples have control of their land, the forest will be better protected and sustainably used.

This is the third time that the Rainforest Foundation Norway has published a “The State of the Rainforest” report.  This year’s edition has been a joint undertaking between Rainforest Foundation Norway and GRID-Arendal. The report has only been possible through contributions from local communities and civil society organizations in rainforest countries. The stories of how communities actively protect their forests underscore that solutions for the global problem of tropical deforestation must build on local experiences.

The report aims to give an overview of existing knowledge, presented in an accessible way – and to ensure that we see the whole forest, not only the trees. We hope the report will be useful for all people engaged in the protection of rainforest, whether you are scientist, journalist, activist, decision maker or a concerned citizen.