Over 100 world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate meeting in 2021, which culminated in a signed agreement to end global deforestation by the year 2030. The pledge included almost $20 billion of public and private funds. This came despite a similar initiative in 2014 failing to slow the rate of deforestation in the signatory nations and, in fact, increasing it.
However, according to a new study carried out by the University of Maryland, the tropics lost 10% more primary rainforest in 2022 than in 2021, with just nearly 16,000 square miles felled or burned in total. The burning of these forests released an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India.
The latest figures suggest a rise in (human-caused) global deforestation of about 3.6% in 2022 compared with 2021.
“The question is, are we on track to halt deforestation by 2030? And the short answer is a simple no,” said Rod Taylor from the World Resources Institute (WRI) which runs the Global Forest Watch. “Globally, we are far off track and trending in the wrong direction. Our analysis shows that global deforestation in 2022 was over 1 million hectares above the level needed to be on track to zero deforestation by 2030.”
The worst country for deforestation is Brazil where deforestation increased by over 14%. In Amazonas state, which is home to over half of Brazil’s intact forests, the rate of deforestation has almost doubled over the past three years.
Indonesia has reduced its primary tropical forest loss more than any other country in recent years since recording an all-time high in 2016. This has been at least partially attributed to a moratorium on logging in new palm oil plantations that was made permanent in 2019, while efforts to monitor and limit fires have been stepped up.
Malaysia has had similar results, as 83% of palm oil refining capacity is now operating under no deforestation.
“There’s an urgency to get a peak and decline in deforestation, even more urgent than the peak and decline in carbon emissions,” Taylor said. “Because once you lose forests, they’re just so much harder to recover. They’re kind of irrecoverable assets.
The COP26 nations should look to Israel in its role as a light unto the nations. Israel is one of the only nations in the world that entered the 21st century with more trees than it had 100 years ago. Since 1900 roughly 250,000,000 trees have been planted across Israel. In 1948 roughly 2% of Israel was covered in trees and this has now grown to around 8.5%. There are currently over 200 million trees in forests and woodlands covering some 300,000 acres. An additional 75,000 acres in Israel that are designated as forestland but have not yet been planted in and a few years ago the Jewish National Fund adopted a twenty year plan with the aim of significantly increasing their work and planting close to 4,000 acres of trees per year.
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, the founder and Executive Director of The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and the author of the “Eco Bible: An Ecological Commentary on the Hebrew Bible” explained that forestation is, in fact, a Biblical imperative.
In an article co-authored with Dr. Akiva Wolff, Rabbi Neril cited a Midrash, which teaches: “When God created the first man, He took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him ‘See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.’”
“The Midrash singles out the trees of the Garden of Eden – rather than the Garden of Eden itself – to represent the natural world, the work of the Creator,” Rabbi Neril said. “Why should trees be singled out in God telling people not to destroy creation? An exploration of this topic will help us understand the deep importance of trees in our tradition and the lessons they can offer us regarding the serious environmental challenges we face today.”
“Trees are also singled out as symbols of a favorable environment for human beings,” he added. “During the creation of the world and the entrance of the Jewish people into the land of Israel, the Midrash stresses the importance of first preparing the necessary life-support system.”
Rabbik Neril cited as midrash that referred to Deuteronomy 12:5 as commanding Man to follow God’s example.
“When He created the world, His first action was to plant trees,” Rabbi Neril said, citing Genesis 2:8. “So you, too, when we enter the land of Israel, planting trees should be our first involvement.”