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The Covid-19 pandemic did not reduce deforestation

A recent study led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT has found that, despite the massive upheavals caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, deforestation around the world proceeded as expected from the trends established over the last 15 years. 

To project expected deforestation trends for 2020, the experts used historical deforestation data from 2004 to 2019 from the Terra-i pantropical land cover change monitoring system and analyzed tree cover loss over time both at the regional level for the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and at the country level for Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The investigation revealed little change in deforestation rates during the pandemic, mainly because the complex dynamics driving deforestation before the pandemic persisted unimpacted by the widespread lockdowns from 2020.

“For example, illegal deforestation in areas where there was minimal state (governmental) presence before the pandemic would likely continue during lockdowns,” explained study corresponding author Janelle Sylvester, a research fellow at the Alliance. In addition, “global-level macroeconomic forces related to changes in demand and supply paired with national economic stimulus packages could have balanced out economic pressures that were being placed on forests.”

According to the researchers, these findings are not surprising, since deforestation is heavily driven by livestock grazing and the demand for livestock-related products continued during the lockdowns.

“There were changes in food consumption habits, but usually it was towards processed foods and a reliance on industrialized agriculture,” said study co-author Louis Reymondin, an expert in the digital transformation of the agri-food systems at the Alliance.

“The disruption needed to stop deforestation is about changing consumer behavior, changing the food system… and that’s something that countries and governments and scientists are trying to push forward.”

Further research is needed to evaluate these phenomena at sub-national and local scales at longer time periods.

“All in all, we see that deforestation trends in most countries followed their expected trajectories; however, to really understand the effects of the pandemic on deforestation we will have to look at a longer time period, say three years or more, in order to understand how national economic recovery efforts impact forest cover,” Sylvester concluded.

The study is published in the Journal of Forestry Research


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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