The Time is Now

Established in 2017 by Rainforest Partnership, World Rainforest Day recognizes forests as one of the most powerful and cost-effective climate change mitigation tools we have. Their partner network comprises a global body of Indigenous groups, policy representatives, youth leaders and nonprofit organizations. Together, they collaborate and innovate strategies for holistic forest protection and restoration.

Though nature lovers and tree huggers may show their appreciation year-round, virtual celebrations will commence on June 22, inspired by the theme: ‘The Time is Now’. In an effort to foster a sense of shared global responsibility and stewardship, there will be a free 24-hour Summit, hosted online. To catch a glimpse of what’s to come, check out the selection of events from the 2021 Summit below, and read on to learn about why rain forest conservation is so vital!

Forest Facts 

Land Coverage 

  • Forests are home to more than three-quarters of the world’s life on land.
  • Forests occur in the four major climatic domains: boreal, temperate, subtropical and tropical.
  • In total, forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface.
  • Today, around 13 percent of Earth’s land is covered with tropical forests (about 7.7 million square miles).
  • Approximately one-third (34 percent) of the world’s forests are primary (meaning, consisting of native tree species and having no indications of human activities and no significant disturbances in ecological processes).
  • Combined, three countries—Brazil, Canada and the Russian Federation—contain more than half (61 percent) of the world’s primary forests.
  • As of December 2019, a total of 20,334 tree species had been included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, of which 8,056 were assessed as globally threatened. More than 1,400 tree species are assessed as critically endangered and in urgent need of conservation action.

Biomass & Biodiversity

  • Forests harbor most of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity and its three components—ecosystem, species and genetic diversity.
  • Forests provide habitats for about 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species and 68 percent of mammal species.
  • Rain forest ecosystems only cover around six percent of Earth’s surface but they are home to more species than any other terrestrial habitat.
  • Fifty percent of all terrestrial biodiversity is found in the world’s rain forests.
  • About 60 percent of all vascular plants occur in tropical forests.
  • A square kilometer (or .386 square miles) of forest may be home to more than 1,000 species.

Deer, Mule Deer, National Parks, North America, Odocoileus hemionus, USA

Rain Forests (Tropical Forests)

  • The majority of Earth’s land is located north of the tropics. Rain forests are limited to the small land area between the latitudes 23.5° North and 23.5° South of the equator (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer).
  • Tropical rain forests merge into other types of forest depending on the altitude, latitude and various soil, flooding and climate conditions.
  • The majority of tropical rain forests are found in four biogeographic realms: the Afrotropical (mainland Africa, Madagascar and scattered islands); the Australian (Australia, New Guinea and the Pacific Islands); the Indomalayan (India, Sri Lanka, mainland Asia and Southeast Asia); and the Neotropical (South America, Central America and the Caribbean islands).
  • Over half the world’s rain forests lie in the Neotropical realm, a quarter are in Africa and a fifth are in Asia. Twenty percent exist in Indonesia and Congo Basin. The remaining five percent or so are scattered across Australia, New Guinea, and various Pacific Islands.
  • Rain forests are found in temperate regions like Canada and the United States as well. These forests receive abundant, year-round rainfall. They are characterized by an enclosed canopy and high species diversity.

A lush rainforest with early morning fog.

The Amazon

  • The largest unbroken stretch of rain forest is found in the Amazon River Basin of South America.
  • The Amazon River Basin is roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States and covers 40 percent of the South American continent.
  • The Amazon is a vast biome that spans the following countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname; as well as the territory, French Guiana.
  • Two-thirds of the Amazon lies in Brazil, which holds about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical rain forests.
  • The Amazon contains one in 10 known species on Earth, 1.4 billion acres of dense forests (half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests) and the 3,977-mile-long Amazon River (the second-longest river on Earth).
  • The Amazon lost at least 17 percent of its forest cover in the last half-century due to human activity—mainly clearing trees to create new or larger farms and ranches.
  • The Amazon is close to a tipping point past which it will no longer be able to sustainably support itself. To ensure the Amazon’s future—for its people and biodiversity—deforestation in the region should not exceed 20 percent; it is already at 18 percent!
  • Models show that if deforestation exceeds 40 percent of the original forest area in the Amazon biome, a transition to savanna ecosystems could be triggered.

Amazon Rainforest in Anavilhanas national park, Brazil

Carbon Sequestration & Sinking

  • Forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle. They function as a sink through carbon capture via photosynthesis and storage in biomass and soils. Forest carbon stock is the carbon contained in forests in four pools—living biomass, dead wood, litter and soil organic matter.
  • In the last decade, forests accumulated more carbon than they emitted.
  • Tropical and subtropical regions represent 78 percent of gross emissions and 54 percent of gross removals.
  • Tropical forests hold more than 210 gigatons of carbon; that is seven times the amount emitted each year by human activities!
  • The Amazon contains 90-140 billion tons of carbon.
  • Forests release stored carbon through anthropogenic causes like deforestation and fire and natural processes such as tree decay.

Climate Regulation & Ecosystem Services

  • Forest ecosystem services enhance the adaptive capacity and resilience of people and ecosystems through water and temperature regulation, flood-risk reduction, nutrient cycling, pollination, resource provision and cultural services.
  • Sustainably managed forest ecosystems help regulate hydrologic cycles and can reduce the likelihood of agricultural losses from drought, soil erosion, landslides and floods.
  • Changes in forest cover affect the climate through the following processes: albedo (the extent to which solar radiation is reflected back to the atmosphere); evapotranspiration (the emission of water vapor into the atmosphere); and the extent to which dust and smoke particles and pollen and microbes enter the atmosphere as aerosols.
  • Trees in urban settings have been shown to reduce land surface temperatures (urban heat), primarily through transpiration, shading and albedo.
  • The negative effects of forest and tree loss on temperature and rainfall can be substantial. Declines in rainfall linked to deforestation in the southern Brazilian Amazon could cause agricultural losses (e.g. declines in soybean and livestock yields) valued at more than $1 billion per year between now and 2050.

Forest Fires

  • About one-third of global forest loss is fire-related. Ninety percent of forest fires are caused by humans.
  • Recent research shows that 29–37 percent of global forest loss in 2003–2018 was fire-related.
  • The frequency, length and severity of wildfires and fire seasons are increasing. Fire-adapted species are struggling to bounce back and the successive heat compromises forest health and resilience.
  • Australia suffered its worst fire season in history in 2019–2020, with an estimated 10.2 million ha burnt, including 8.19 million ha of native forest. Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced. World Wildlife Fund revealed the following breakdown: 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs.
  • Fortunately, travelers can witness 30 percent of Australia’s remaining frog, reptile and marsupial species and 90 percent of its bat and butterfly species, as well as 430 bird species on Natural Habitat Adventures’ Australia North Spend a few days exploring Daintree National Park, home of the 135-million-year-old tropical forest that shelters an array of wildlife, including the musky rat kangaroo and southern cassowary.

Forest fire caused by humans.

Deforestation & Land-Use Changes

  • Nearly one-third of the planet’s land area has been transformed in the last 60 years.
  • About 40 percent of all tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was driven by the illegal conversion of forestlands for commercial agriculture.
  • Remote sensing revealed that, between 2000 and 2018, almost 90 percent of deforestation was related to agriculture (52.3 percent from expansion for cropland and 37.5 percent from expansion for livestock grazing).
  • The Global Forest Resources Assessment estimated that between 1990 and 2020, the world lost 178 million hectares of forest to land conversion. Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010-2020, at 3.9 million hectares, followed by South America, at 2.6 million hectares.
  • Illegal logging releases enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and is the lead cause of global forest degradation. It includes the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws.
  • The global illegal timber trade is estimated by the United Nations at between $30 billion and $100 billion annually.
  • In Peru, illegal logging happens at a rate of approximately 80 percent. The rate is 85 percent in Myanmar and nearly 65 percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The United States is the world’s largest importer and end user of wood—including from some countries that have high rates of illegal logging. Further, the U.S. is one of the world’s largest consumers of forest products—the wood products industry loses as much as $1 billion annually from illegal logging.

Chopped timber for industrial use.

Zoonotic Diseases

  • Biodiversity loss alters disease ecology and landscape changes (deforestation, forest fragmentation, human settlement in primarily wildlife habitat, the spread of crop and livestock production and urbanization) put people in closer contact with wildlife; thus, the likelihood of pathogen spillover increases.
  • Deforestation also bring people and livestock into closer contact with wildlife, increasing human-wildlife conflicts and the risk of disease transmission between them.
  • Analysis of the spatial patterns of the origins of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) suggests that both deforestation and reforestation are correlated with a heightened risk of disease emergence globally.
  • Sixty percent of EIDs are caused by pathogens that are non-human borne (i.e. are zoonotic and nearly three-quarters (71.8 percent) of such zoonotic EIDs originate in wildlife.
  • Hotspots of concern are tropical forest regions where mammalian biodiversity is high and the land experiences rapid change and population growth.
  • A recent study found that 15 percent of about 250 analyzed EIDs were linked to forests.
  • Deforestation is an important factor in the spread of vector-borne diseases (such as malaria and Ebola) and deforestation in tropical regions has been associated with an increase in infectious diseases like dengue fever and yellow fever.

Forest Stewardship & Food Security

  • Approximately 750 million people—including 60 million Indigenous people—live in forests.
  • The Amazon alone is home to over 30 million people, including 350 Indigenous groups.
  • Indigenous peoples manage about 40 percent of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact ecosystems worldwide.
  • Deforestation rates tend to be lower on Indigenous peoples’ lands than in surrounding forests (including in protected areas), due to the following reasons: cultural factors, traditional knowledge, strong governance, forest incentive policies and the low profitability of agriculture.
  • Ninety-one percent of Indigenous peoples’ and local community lands have zero to low levels of human modification, meaning they are natural to semi-natural lands that are no more than 10 percent modified by intensive human impact.
  • The forest sector contributes more than $1.52 trillion to world gross domestic product and employs 33 million people. In many countries, 80–90 percent of forest enterprises are small or medium-sized, which generate more than half of forest-related employment.
  • An estimated 75 percent of the 115 leading food crops globally—together representing 35 percent of global food production—benefit from pollination by animals, many of which live in forests.
  • The global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050; this implies an increase in food demand of 35–56 percent, thus increasing demand for land and placing pressure on forests.
  • The State of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Lands and Territories report, which was co-created by WWF stated: “Achieving the ambitious goals and targets in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework will not be possible without the lands and territories recognized, sustained, protected and restored by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities” 

Conserve Rain Forests through Ecotourism 

Each year, the Amazon loses forested areas the size of the state of Delaware as a result of agricultural expansion, ranching, infrastructure projects, energy exploration, natural resource extraction and illegal logging. A majority of WWF’s conservation initiatives are concentrated in tropical rain forests in the Amazon, the Congo Basin, the Greater Mekong and other regions near the equator.

The Amazon is one of Earth’s last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles, and pink river dolphins, and home to thousands of birds and butterflies. Tree-dwelling species include southern two-toed sloths, pygmy marmosets, saddleback and emperor tamarins, and Goeldi’s monkeys. The diversity of the region is staggering, with 40,000 plant species, 2,400 freshwater fish species and more than 370 types of reptiles. To protect these species, WWF works with local communities and partners with nongovernmental organizations, corporations and governments to ensure that deforestation and degradation of rivers are alleviated.

You can contribute to WWF’s goals and protect biodiversity through non-consumptive forest-based recreation and tourism. The ecotourism industry plays an important role in generating economic and employment opportunities for women, Indigenous communities and other vulnerable groups. Each year an estimated 8 billion visits are made to protected areas—many of which are forest-covered. Nat Hab’s Great Amazon River Expedition grants passengers an intimate glimpse into the most biodiverse—and one of the most threatened—ecosystems in the world. Journey all the way to the tributary headwaters to explore the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve; travel aboard our chartered riverboat with panoramic windows for private nature viewing; and scout for wildlife like vibrant macaws, mischievous monkeys and rare pink river dolphins alongside our expert guides!