Tree Loss

It’s not just the Amazon rainforest. The quest for land and resources is eliminating the world’s greenest places.
Note: Based on 2021 tree cover loss
Source: University of Maryland, Global Forest Watch

Why this number

The world loses more than 8,000 square meters of tree cover per second, according to the most recent year for which we have complete data. That’s roughly equal to one soccer pitch per second, the rate simulated in the tree-loss visualization above.

Another way to think about this number: The world lost enough trees in 2021 to more than cover the U.K. That’s 25.3 million hectares—or 34 million soccer pitches. Almost half of those losses came in the tropics, which are the most biologically diverse and among the most climate-critical ecosystems on the planet.

Tree Loss from 2001 to 2021

  • Tree cover in 2000
  • Tree loss
Source: University of Maryland, Global Forest Watch, Google Earth Engine

Inside the metric

Humanity is dependent on forests and not paying attention to the distress signals they’re sending out. About 30% of forests have disappeared globally, and another 20% are degraded to the point that they no longer provide climate-critical benefits. Forests are significant sinks for carbon-dioxide pollution, which is the single-biggest driver of global warming. Healthy forests also act as filters that clean air and water.

Tropical deforestation is responsible for more than 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the World Resources Institute. The situation is particularly critical in the Amazon, where further deforestation could break the water cycle that keeps the rainforests alive, converting them eventually into tropical savannahs. In Brazil, farmers burn down forests to raise crops and cattle. In Indonesia, fires lit to clear land for palm oil cultivation have declined with more aggressive government policy but remain a yearly cause of smoke that drifts across a wide area. More than 96% of forest degradation occurs in the tropics. But tree loss also reaches into northern forests: 35% of losses occurred in Russia, Canada and the U.S. in 2021. Unprecedented fires in Russia last year contributed to an overall 30% rise in northern tree loss.

How we know

Global Forest Watch sources its tree-cover loss estimates from Landsat satellite imagery produced by the University of Maryland, Google, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. “Tree cover” is a larger category than “deforestation” because it includes losses from both natural forests and those planted by people.

What progress looks like

Despite the persistence of deforestation, international and national policies evolved considerably over the last decade to tackle this problem. Brazil saw several years of progress in stemming deforestation through stepped-up law enforcement and incentives to keep land intact, although these efforts have stalled or reversed in recent years, with changes in political leadership. Indonesia pursued similar efforts and saw deforestation drop by half in 2017. The private sector has an enormous role to play, by ensuring they’re not buying materials that come from threatened forests.