An area of forest equal to the size of India could be lost by 2050

Tropical forests face a lot of threats, particularly from the logging and agriculture industries. Their continued disappearance from the face of the Earth is therefore no great news — but new research suggests that they may be disappearing even faster than we thought. And that could have big implications for the global effort against climate change.

new report from the Center for Global Development warns of what will happen if world leaders don’t take stronger steps to cut down on deforestation — that is, if we follow a “business-as-usual” trajectory. By 2050, they estimate, an area of forest equal to the size of India will be lost. The researchers came to their conclusions by using published satellite data on global forest cover from 2001 to 2012 to assess current rates of deforestation around the world.

Losing so much of the world’s forests is bad enough for the plants and animals that depend on them to survive. But even more alarming are the implications for global climate change. Currently, world leaders are working to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. But in order to meet that goal, scientists say, there’s a limited amount of carbon humans can continue to pour into the atmosphere in the coming decades.

Cutting down on the burning of fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy sources is a major way nations around the world are working to meet the 2-degree goal. But forests contain huge stores of carbon as well, which get dumped into the atmosphere if the trees are destroyed.

That’s a substantial portion of the budget to burn through by mid-century. But the researchers say there are several effective ways to start cutting down on deforestation. Setting up international carbon payments — in which wealthy countries pay other nations to keep their tropical forests standing — is one option. Introducing domestic carbon prices, which are essentially taxes that must be paid for the right to emit a certain amount of carbon, is another possibility. Or countries could simply enact more restrictive policies on deforestation.

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