New analysis finds over 100 million hectares of intact forest area degraded since 2000

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Greenpeace, the University of Maryland, Transparent World, the World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia call for redoubled effort to protect last great forest wilderness sites.

Press release - 4 September, 2014

Washington, 4 September 2014 - New analysis and maps released today reveal the alarming speed at which the world’s largest expanses of forest wilderness are being degraded. More than 104 million hectares – an area three times the size of Germany – of the world’s remaining Intact Forest Landscapes were degraded from 2000 to 2013.

The Greenpeace GIS Laboratory, University of Maryland and Transparent World, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia, used satellite technology and advanced techniques to conduct a global analysis to determine the location and extent of the world's last remaining large undisturbed forests, called Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs). These are areas large enough to retain native biodiversity and contain no signs of fragmentation by logging and infrastructure such as roads, mining and oil or gas development. Intact Forest Landscapes also contain non-productive areas with low tree cover and non-forested areas.

"Governments must take urgent action to stop IFL degradation by creating more protected areas, strengthening the rights of forest communities and other measures that protect intact forests for their economic, social and conservation values," said Dr. Christoph Thies, Senior Forest campaigner for Greenpeace International. "The UN, donor countries and development banks also need to support developing countries to protect their IFLs. Finally, voluntary private sector initiatives such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and various roundtables on palm oil, soy and beef, can ensure that their standards for timber and agricultural commodities avoid IFL degradation."

The new maps are accessible and can be analyzed using tools on the cutting-edge Global Forest Watch platform, a dynamic, online forest monitoring and alert system that empowers people to better manage forests.

"Thanks to ever more powerful cloud computing, satellite imagery, and the efforts of the Global Forest Watch partners, we can clearly see that business as usual will lead to destruction of most remaining intact forests this century," said Dr. Nigel Sizer, Global Director of the Forest Program at WRI, and head of Global Forest Watch. "There is an urgent need for governments to heed the calls of their citizens and to respect the rights of forest-dependent peoples by properly protecting remaining intact forests. Global Forest Watch will continue to draw attention to both forest destruction and success stories to protect vulnerable land."

The analysis includes several key findings:

  • Since 2000, 8.1% of Intact Forests Landscapes have been degraded.
  • Almost 95% of the world's remaining Intact Forest Landscapes are in the tropical and boreal regions.
  • The largest areas of IFL degradation have been found in the Northern boreal forest belt of Canada, Russia and Alaska (47%) and tropical forest regions such as the Amazon (25%) and Congo (9%) basins.
  • Just three countries – Canada, Russia and Brazil – together contain 65% of the world's remaining Intact Forest Landscapes. These countries also accounted for over half of all IFL degradation with road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, being a key driver. Other drivers vary significantly in different regions, from human-caused fires in Russia to agricultural conversion in Brazil.

The areas covered in the analysis include some of the most precious landscapes on Earth, such as the vast northern boreal forests, home to caribou migrations and enormous quantities of stored carbon, as well as the biodiverse rainforests of Central Borneo, the Congo and the Western and Northern Amazon. These last forest frontiers play a critical role in sustaining rich biodiversity, maintaining climate and weather stability as well as air and water quality, and supporting the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.

However, according to the new data, human activity – such as logging and road building – is fragmenting these pristine landscapes. This not only leads to increased biodiversity loss, but also intensifies climate change through greenhouse gas emissions and loss of valuable forest carbon stores and sinks.

The new data could help companies with sustainability commitments in determining which areas to avoid when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy. This is highly significant as market-led efforts gain further support amid continued lax governance and enforcement in many frontier forest regions.

This analysis is made possible through free public access to satellite imagery provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat program in partnership with NASA. The IFL mapping team processed thousands of Landsat images, along with other information on roads and settlements, to catalogue human activity in previously undisturbed areas.

"Our team developed the IFL concept and mapping method in the late 1990s as a simple and practical tool for mapping and monitoring global forest degradation. Based on freely available satellite data, the method allowed us to map global intact areas for the first time. The year 2000 IFL map provided a global baseline for subsequent forest degradation monitoring. Today we present the results of 13 years of intact forest monitoring performed using the same data source and method to ensure globally consistent results. Monitoring data allows direct quantitative assessment and comparison of natural forest areas degradation at global and national levels. We believe that the global IFL map will help to spur practical conservation planning and action with regard to large undeveloped forest landscapes," stressed Dr. Peter Potapov, Research Associate Professor, University of Maryland.

ENDS

Editor's Note: To view the Intact Forest Landscape mapping methods and findings please visit: www.intactforests.org

For more information please contact:

Daniel Melling, WRI, ; +1 (202) 729-7769
Martin Baker, Greenpeace,

About the Intact Forest Landscapes mapping team

The IFL concept and its technical definition were developed in the late 1990s by Greenpeace Russia and Global Forest Watch to help create, implement, and monitor policies to halt or reduce forest degradation at the regional-to-global levels. The GIS Laboratory of Greenpeace, working with WRI and partners in GFW Russia, then developed a practical method for mapping IFL and published the first regional IFL map in 2001, covering Northern European Russia. Global Forest Watch partners then used the method to produce national IFL maps of Russia (2002) and Canada (2003). In 2005-2006, the first global IFL map was completed under the leadership of Greenpeace with contributions from Biodiversity Conservation Center, International Socio-Ecological Union, World Resources Institute, and a number of regional NGOs. The first global map showed the situation around the year 2000. The global map was updated in 2014 by Greenpeace, The University of Maryland, and Transparent World, in collaboration with World Resources Institute and WWF Russia.

About World Resources Institute

WRI is a global research organization that spans more than 50 countries, with offices in the United States, China, Indonesia, Central Africa, India, Brazil, and beyond. Our more than 450 experts and staff work closely with partners to turn big ideas into action to sustain our natural resources—the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being. (www.wri.org)

About Global Forest Watch

Global Forest Watch (GFW) is a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system empowering people everywhere to better manage forests. For the first time, GFW unites satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests. Armed with the latest information from GFW, governments, businesses, and communities can halt forest loss. (www.globalforestwatch.org)

About the Greenpeace GIS Laboratory

The GIS Laboratory is based at Greenpeace Russia focusing on mapping research, design and communication. The Lab uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools to collect, store and edit spatial data, then analyses and visualizes the results using maps, statistics and graphics. The main data source used by the GIS Lab is satellite imagery. Greenpeace Russia was the first Greenpeace office in the network to use mapping in the 1990's and has supported many international projects on forest degradation, natural fire monitoring and assessing the risk of oil spills.

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