Loss of African rainforest has slowed

22 July 2013

Satellite images have shown deforestation of the world’s second largest rainforest has slowed dramatically.

Between 1990 and 2000, more than 285,000 hectares of forest in the Congo Basin were lost every year, the equivalent of 1,120 football pitches per day. This reduced to 181,500 hectares between 2000 and 2010, equivalent to 710 football pitches every day.

The findings have been published in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, titled ‘Change in African rainforests: past, present and future’.

The issue is based on a conference, 'Climate Change, Deforestation and the Future of African Rainforests', held in Oxford in January 2012 and partly funded by the Oxford Martin School.

Researchers say the drastic reduction is most likely linked to better management of forests and an increased contribution of oil and mineral industries to the income of Congo Basin countries, at the expense of agricultural expansion.

A study also included in the issue showed each hectare of African rainforest stores about a third more carbon than a typical Amazonian rainforest, meaning the decline in African deforestation is likely to have a bigger impact in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide.

Professor Yadvinder Malhi of the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests (pictured above) compiled and edited the issue with Stephen Adu-Bredu of the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, Rebecca Asare of the Forest Trends Association, Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, and Philippe Mayaux of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Professor Malhi said: “The African tropics contain the second largest area of tropical rainforest in the world, accounting for roughly 30% of global rainforest cover, the lush green heart of an otherwise generally dry continent.

"Over the 21st century, the African rainforest realm has the potential to witness massive change, both through an expansion of deforestation, hunting and logging, and through the effects of global climate change.

“These rainforests have global significance and value as reservoirs of biodiversity, as stores and sinks of atmospheric carbon, as regulators of flow of mighty rivers, as sources of moisture to the atmosphere and engines of the global atmospheric circulation.

“They also have a unique and particular history of changes in climate and human pressure, and face a range of contemporary pressures.”