2023 data shows that political leadership and strong policies work in reducing forest loss, yet the world remains off track to meet 2030 forest goals, according to Global Forest Watch’s annual data analysis 

WASHINGTON (April 4, 2024) Primary forest loss declined significantly in Brazil and Colombia in 2023, though tropical rates remained stubbornly consistent with recent years, according to new data from the University of Maryland’s GLAD Lab and available on World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch platform. Dramatic progress in Brazil and Colombia highlights the strength of political will and policy shifts in protecting forests.  

However, the world remains far off track to reach its 2030 goals – in 2023, the tropics lost 3.7 million hectares of primary forest, an area slightly smaller than Bhutan. This is equivalent to losing 10 football (soccer) fields per minute. Brazil and Colombia’s decreases were counteracted by increases in Bolivia, Laos, Nicaragua, and other countries. Extraordinary increases occurred outside the tropics as well, with Canada experiencing record-breaking fire-related loss. 

“The world took two steps forward, two steps back when it comes to this past year’s forest loss.” said Mikaela Weisse, Global Forest Watch Director, WRI. “Steep declines in the Brazilian Amazon and Colombia show that progress is possible, but increasing forest loss in other areas has largely counteracted that progress. We must learn from the countries that are successfully slowing deforestation.” 

The most significant reductions were in Brazil and Colombia, both of which benefitted from new political leadership placing an emphasis on environmental protections and forest conservation. Brazil saw a 36% reduction in primary forest loss in 2023 under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s leadership, reaching its lowest level since 2015. This resulted in a considerable decrease in Brazil’s overall share of total global primary forest loss – down from 43% in 2022 to 30% in 2023. In Colombia, primary forest loss halved (down 49%) in 2023 compared to 2022 under President Gustavo Petro Urrego’s leadership.   

"We’re incredibly proud to see such stark progress being made across the country, especially in the Brazilian Amazon,” said Mariana Oliveira, Manager, Forests, Land Use and Agriculture Program, WRI Brasil. “However, we still have a very long ways to improve and sustain the efforts, and I hope today’s release energizes the national and subnational governments in Brazil – and governments around the world – to build on this momentum rather than using it as an excuse to slow down.” 

"The story of deforestation in Colombia is complex and deeply intertwined with the country’s politics, which makes 2023’s historic decrease particularly powerful,” said Alejandra Laina, Natural Resources Manager, WRI Colombia. “There is no doubt that recent government action and the commitment of the communities has had a profound impact on Colombia’s forests, and we encourage those involved in current peace talks to use this data as a springboard to accelerate further progress.”  

"Forests are critical ecosystems for fighting climate change, supporting livelihoods, and protecting biodiversity,” said WRI President and CEO Ani Dasgupta. “The world has just six years left to keep its promise to halt deforestation. This year’s forest loss numbers tell an inspiring story of what we can achieve when leaders prioritize action, but the data also highlights many urgent areas of missed opportunity to protect our forests and our future.” 

While the news out of Brazil and Colombia points to a positive trend of political leaders prioritizing nature, the story is not consistent around the world. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bolivia trail behind Brazil as the top contributors to total global forest loss, and – unlike Brazil – both saw increases in 2023. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which lost over half a million hectares of primary rainforest in 2023, is notable given that the Congo Basin is the last remaining major tropical forest which remains a carbon sink, meaning the forest absorbs more carbon than it emits. While the rate in 2023 increased by only 3%, the continued small increase over many years adds up over time.  

"Forests are the backbone of livelihoods for Indigenous people and local communities across Africa, and this is especially true in the Congo Basin,” said Teodyl Nkuintchua, Congo Basin Strategy and Engagement Lead at WRI. “Dramatic policy action must be taken in the Congo Basin to enact new development pathways that support a transition away from unsustainable food and energy production practices, while improving wellbeing for Indigenous people and local communities as much as revenues for countries.” 

In Bolivia, primary forest loss increased by 27% in 2023, reaching its highest year on record for the third year in a row. Bolivia had the third most primary forest loss of any tropical country, despite having less than half the forest area of either the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Indonesia. Fire-related loss accounted for just over half (51%) of Bolivia’s total loss in 2023 as record hot weather caused human-set fires to spread into forests. Agricultural production – notably soybeans – is also a primary driver of deforestation across the country.  

Indonesia saw a 27% uptick in primary forest loss in 2023, an El Niño year, though the rate remains historically low compared to that of the mid-2010s. The emergence of El Niño conditions led to concerns that Indonesia might experience another fire season like 2015; however, fires in 2023 had a less severe impact than initially predicted. 

Additionally, Laos and Nicaragua have both seen an increase in primary forest loss in recent years, including 2023. The two countries have exceptionally high rates of forest loss relative to their sizes, losing 1.9% and 4.2%, respectively, of their primary forest in 2023. Increases in these countries are largely a result of agricultural expansion. 

“This report appropriately challenges us to balance despair and hope at the same time. The alarmingly high rates of global deforestation remind us how badly off track we are in solving the climate and nature crises,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. “But countries such as Colombia, Brazil, and Indonesia are demonstrating amazing possibilities when modern data and science combine with smart policy design and inspiring leadership.” 

Fires once again drove forest loss trends outside of the tropics, with 2023’s most concerning fire story taking place in Canada. Like many areas of the world, widespread drought and increased temperatures driven by climate change were widespread across Canada. This led to the worst fire season on record, and a five-fold increase in tree cover loss due to fire between 2022 and 2023. 

"Satellite data helps us monitor the extent of wildfires over the years, including those leading to tree cover loss,” said Alexandra (Sasha) Tyukavina, Associate Research Professor at the Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland. “This is especially important in understanding how extreme fire years — like Canada's 2023 record-breaking wildfire season — impact the world's forests over time." 

World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch team provides annual tree cover loss data analysis each year, showing when and where forest loss occurred around the world. The annual tree cover loss data is created and updated by the GLAD (Global Land Analysis & Discovery) Lab at the University of Maryland. The data captures areas of tree cover loss across all global land (except Antarctica and other Arctic islands) at approximately 30 × 30-meter resolution. 

About World Resources Institute    
WRI is a trusted partner for change. Using research-based approaches, we work globally and in focus countries to meet people’s essential needs; to protect and restore nature; and to stabilize the climate and build resilient communities. We aim to fundamentally transform the way the world produces and uses food and energy and designs its cities to create a better future for all.  Founded in 1982, WRI has nearly 2,000 staff around the world, with country offices in Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States and regional offices in Africa and Europe.   

About Global Forest Watch 

Global Forest Watch (GFW) is an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests. By harnessing cutting-edge technology, GFW allows anyone to access near real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world. Since its launch in 2014, over 4 million people have visited Global Forest Watch from every single country in the world. 

About University of Maryland GLAD Lab 

The Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland investigates methods, causes and impacts of global land surface change.  Earth observation imagery are the primary data source and land cover extent and change the primary topic of interest.  The lab is led by Drs. Matthew Hansen and Peter Potapov. Their team consists of 17 full-time researchers and 9 doctoral students, and a constantly changing number of international, national and local interns.