Visualising 2018 tree cover loss with Global Forest Watch.

Camellia Williams
May 8, 2019 · 5 min read

Global Forest Loss.

Our planet lost 12 million hectares of tropical tree cover in 2018. Of that, 3.6 million hectares were primary forest — an area equivalent to the size of Belgium. But does a fact like that help you understand how much forest loss occurred? Or where? Or why? Making sense of big numbers is easier with data visualisation. With Global Forest Watch you can see where forest loss is most pervasive, threatening indigenous lands, or reducing biodiversity, so we can act quickly when deforestation happens where it shouldn’t.

Global tree cover loss in 2018. Each pink pixel represents an area where tree cover has been lost. Global Forest Watch.

National forest loss in Brazil.

Of all the countries in the world, Brazil lost the greatest area of tropical primary rainforest in 2018 — 1.3 million hectares in total. Although this figure is less than the 2016–2017 fire-related spike, it’s still above historical levels. Worryingly, tree cover loss is occuring in places that should be protected from deforestation.

Threats to indigenous lands.

Brazil’s 2018 Presidential elections ushered in a new leader who cares little for the environment, and its impact is already visible across Brazil. Anticipating that environmental protections would be relaxed, loggers and ranchers began a land grab of areas near and within indigenous territories the moment Jair Bolsonaro took office.

Hotspots of primary forest loss near and within indigenous territories in Brazil. Graphic by World Resources Institute.
GLAD alerts within the boundaries (outlined in blue) of the Ituna Itatá Reserve clearly show when the illegal deforestation began and how quickly it spread.
Clockwise from top left, composite satellite images of just a small portion of the Ituna Itatá Reserve from Quarter 1 2018, Quarter 2 2018, Quarter 3 2018, Quarter 4 2018. Satellite imagery reveals extensive clearing within the boundaries of the Ituna Itatá Reserve over the course of 2018. What we cannot assert from these images is what caused the change. However, given that the only people who should be occupying this area are an uncontacted group of indigenous peoples without access to machinery, we must ask ourselves who caused it.
Ituna Itatá Reserve lies within the Senador José Porfírio region, which experienced a higher than normal number of GLAD alerts in June 2018 and August 2018. Explore the dashboard on Global Forest Watch.
The bright green patches show where light is being reflected back in space, indicating an absence of vegetation, or in this case, trees. The straight blue line marks the edge of the Ituna Itatá Reserve boundary, everything to the right is currently protected by a government order which means non-indigenous are not excluded from the area.

Good news for Indonesia.

But it’s not all bad news. Indonesia saw a 63% reduction in primary forest loss from its peak in 2016 when new legal protections of peatlands were introduced. More recent government policies—which include a moratorium on issuing new licenses to use land designated as primary forest and peatland—have also helped slow deforestation.

The Global Plantations data layer maps out plantations across Indonesia and classifies them by type. (Only data for 2015 is currently available). Map: Global Forest Watch.

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.

Thanks to Jamie Gibson

Camellia Williams

Written by

Lead Writer at Vizzuality.

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.

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