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BOGOTA - Worldwide losses of old-growth tropical forests increased 12% in 2020, with climate impacts such as fires, storms and droughts playing a significant role, causing an area roughly the size of Denmark to disappear, according to new data reported on Wednesday.
The world lost 4.2 million hectares (10.4 million acres) of these humid primary forests in 2020, compared with 3.75 million hectares lost in 2019, according to the data from the University of Maryland, published by the World Resource Institute (WRI).
Environmentalists seek to preserve old-growth forests, which attain a great age without significant disturbance, for the ecosystem benefits they provide.
More broadly, the total of all trees lost in 2020, including in boreal and temperate forests, went up 6.6%, according to WRI's Global Forest Watch platform.
"Every year we ring the alarm bell, and the numbers continue to tick up," WRI fellow Frances Seymour said at a virtual news conference.
Increasingly, forests are falling victims to climate change, Seymour warned, citing fires in wetlands.
"We’re getting into a vicious cycle," she said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests people took advantage of coronavirus lockdowns to illegally log or clear in protected areas, Seymour said, describing an uptick in such activities as a continuation of past trends.
She worried that countries anxious to recover economically from the pandemic might not prioritize forest protection in the future.
Governments "are going to look for places to cut budgets, and often environmental ministries are the first to suffer," Seymour said, adding some countries had already relaxed environmental regulations to boost job creation.
Five of the top-10 countries for forest loss in 2020 are in Latin America, led by Brazil and Bolivia, the data shows. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo saw the most forest lost.
One bright spot was Indonesia. While still fourth globally for primary forest loss, 2020 marked the fourth consecutive year of decreasing deforestation for the Southeast Asian country, WRI said, attributing the improvement partly to government policies to protect forests. REUTERS