In 2015, the world lost enough trees to blanket 198,295 square kilometres, an area around the size of Uganda. On the plus side, this was a slight dip from the year before. But it still represented a worldwide trend of rising deforestation since GFW started tracking tree loss in 2001 – even as governments and corporations (increasingly and repeatedly) pledged to do something about it.
Arguably, the most shocking data in 2015 came from the island of New Guinea, which is considered the third largest block of intact rainforest on the planet, after the increasingly fractured Amazon and the Congo. Deforestation on the island jumped an astounding 70% in 2015, threatening the island’s thousands of species found no-where else – think birds of paradise and tree kangaroos – and its local people who have lived closely tied to the forests around them for millennia.
The island of New Guinea is split into two distinct political entities. The western half is a remote – but large and rich in natural resources – region of Indonesia, governed by faraway Jakarta. The eastern half of the island is its own country, Papua New Guinea. Both areas, however, saw significant jumps in forest loss beginning in 2015.
“Visual inspection of the data shows that industrial agriculture and logging are the major players in Papua,” Mikaela Weisse, a Research Analyst with GFW, said. “Data from Greenpeace Indonesia shows that 48 palm oil companies have permits in Indonesian Papua, some as large as 45,000 hectares.”
The satellite imagery shows what many have long warned: that the island of New Guinea has become the newest frontier for forest destruction. Logging and palm oil companies, among others, are infiltrating the island, viewing it as a lucrative place to expand operations in an increasingly resource-scarce planet.
The numbers in 2016 were hardly any better for New Guinea. Tree loss dipped slightly in Papua New Guinea but rose in Indonesian Papua – potentially pointing to a new trend of high deforestation across one of the most intact tropical forests we have left.