Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests and woodlands. While the phenomenon is not new, the current scale and pace of destruction is alarming. Tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of about 13 million hectares per year (approximately the size of Greece). This magnitude of destruction has an impact not only at a local level, but also globally. Tropical forests are home to much of the planet's biodiversity, hosting about half of all known species.
Cutting down forests not only threatens the extinction of a diverse range of plants and animals, but also causes climate disruption: deforestation is responsible for around 20% of global CO2 emissions, making it a major contributor to climate change. Together with forest degradation, it also poses a threat to the cultural integrity and way of life of people dependent on forests for their livelihood. The process continues as alternative land uses usually bring increased economic revenues in the short term, and this is why the deforestation rate remains so high in many countries.
Forests cover roughly 30% of the world's land area. Three percent of the earth's forest cover was lost between 1990 and 2005 and there has been no significant decrease in the rate of deforestation over the past 20 years. Some 96% of deforestation occurs in tropical regions.
Meeting the EU's objective of limiting climate change to 2°C above pre-industrial levels will require a cut of global emissions by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. Such a reduction is impossible without substantial action to combat deforestation.
The European Commission has presented a Communication on deforestation which sets out the EU's response to the challenge of climate change. It proposes that at the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) negotiations on the future climate regime, the EU calls for halting global forest cover loss by 2030 at the latest and reducing gross tropical deforestation by at least 50% by 2020 from current levels. This objective would provide major climate change and biodiversity benefits by 2020.
The Commission proposes to work in the international negotiations on climate change towards the development of a Global Forest Carbon Mechanism, a financial mechanism through which developing countries would be rewarded for emissions reductions achieved by taking action to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.
Simultaneously, the Communication identifies possible ways for the EU to contribute to such a mechanism. It also addresses policies that need to be reinforced in the fields of trade, energy, agriculture, food security and development cooperation in order to ensure a coherent policy response to address deforestation and forest degradation. The Communication also indicates that at EU level an appropriate level of funding is required from 2013 to 2020 to fight deforestation. The total amount of funding will depend on the level of mitigation actions undertaken by developing countries.