What’s Going On Here?

A new study from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and WWF has revealed that around 20% of intact tropical forests overlap with extractive industries, mining, oil and gas projects. This overlapping area amounts to 975,000 km2, almost equivalent to the size of Egypt!

What Does This Mean?

Tropical Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) are defined as continuous patches of forest which show no remotely detectable signs of human activity. While these areas remain intact now, the newly identified 20% that overlaps with extractive industries remains in a limbo phase – it faces both the threat of exploitation for mining or fossil fuel extraction, or has the potential to be spared from such extractive industries. 

Of all the focus regions, Central Africa had the greatest risk of forest destruction, with 26% of IFLs  vulnerable to oil and gas contracts, and 16% with mining concessions. In addition, their results confirmed that the majority of concessions were still in the “exploration” stage, which provides the opportunity to plan to mitigate or reduce serious impacts of any future works now that it has been identified.

The distribution of IFLs and oil and gas contracts (top) and mining leases (bottom) for the three regions of interest: South America (left), Central Africa (middle) and Asia-Pacific (right) (Grantham et al., 2021)

Why Should We Care? 

Tropical IFLs are hugely important areas given they’re one of the last places on the planet that still hold species assemblages in near-natural states of abundance. If we weren’t already hyper aware of the effects of burning fossil fuels, with the news rife with parts of the world on fire and others facing drastic floods, this new data adds another notable cause for concern, as extractive industries have historically been a major contributor to habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss and depletion.

Extensive research indicates that the impacts of extractive projects almost always extend far beyond their lease boundaries – constructing roads, railways and other supporting infrastructure drives further deforestation, draws more people to move into these often sparsely populated areas, and pollutants from operations travel vast distances. There’s also the human side of extractives – they often go hand in hand with an increase in conflict and human rights abuse within frontline communities.

With just 20% tropical forests being considered as “intact” should we not be focusing on saving and nourishing every last bit of these unique habitats?

Be Curious

  • Follow and get involved with organisations working to preserve tropical forests:
  • Green-ify your buying habits – get creative with what you already own, remember less is more, get thrifty and shop pre-loved, boycott the bad companies and buy the most ethical options. 
  • Take your pennies out of the banks financing fossil fuels – read the Ethical Consumer’s guide on ethical banking.
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