Primary forest loss in Brazil declined significantly in 2023 under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s leadership.
Photo: © marcio isensee/

Brazil and Colombia see dramatic reductions in forest loss

New data shows that political leadership and strong policies work in reducing forest loss, yet the world remains off track to meet 2030 forest goals. In 2023, the tropics lost 3.7 million hectares of primary forest.

Primary forest loss declined significantly in Brazil and Colombia in 2023, although tropical rates remained stubbornly consistent with recent years, according to new data from the University of Maryland’s GLAD Lab, in the USA, and published on World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch platform in April 2024. 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 were deprived of 3.7 million hectares of primary forest, an area slightly smaller than Bhutan. This is equivalent to losing ten 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. 

New political leadership reduced forest loss in Brazil and Colombia

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 per cent 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 per cent in 2022 to 30 per cent in 2023. In Colombia, under President Gustavo Petro Urrego’s leadership, primary forest loss halved (down 49 per cent) in 2023 compared to 2022.   

While the news out of Brazil and Colombia points to a positive trend of political leaders prioritising 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 three per cent, the continued small increase over many years adds up over time.  

Bolivia had the third most primary forest loss of tropical countries

In Bolivia, primary forest loss rose by 27 per cent 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 per cent) 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 per cent uptick in primary forest loss in 2023, an El Niño year, although 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 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively, of their primary forest in 2023. Increases in these countries are largely a result of agricultural expansion. 

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 common 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. 


Read more on the World Resources Institutes Global Forest Review website

News Comments

Add a comment


Name is required!

Enter valid name

Valid email is required!

Enter valid email address

Comment is required!

Google Captcha Is Required!

You have reached the limit for comments!

* These fields are required.

Be the First to Comment