Hundreds of millions of acres of world’s forest could be lost by 2030, say WWF

Conservationists identify 11 hotspots that could sustain 80% of protected global forest losses over the next two decades

An endangered Sumatran orangutan in the forest of Bukit Lawang, in Indonesia’s Sumatra island, one of the key sites identified as at risk. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of millions of acres of forest could be lost in the next two decades in less than a dozen global hotspots for deforestation, conservationists have warned.

Research by wildlife charity WWF has identified 11 “deforestation fronts” where 80% of projected global forest losses by 2030 could occur.

Up to 170m hectares (420m acres) could be lost between 2010 and 2030 in these areas if current trends continued – equivalent to the disappearance of a forest stretching across Germany, France, Spain and Portugal.

The areas are the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest and Gran Chaco, and the Cerrado in South America, the Choco-Darien in Central America, the Congo Basin, East Africa, eastern Australia, the Greater Mekong in South East Asia, Borneo, New Guinea and Sumatra.

The fronts, which are at sustained and increased risk of deforestation, are home to indigenous communities that depend on them for their livelihoods and endangered species, such as orangutans and tigers, WWF said.

But they are being lost to expanding agriculture, including livestock farming, palm oil plantations and soy production, as well as small-scale farmers, WWF’s latest Living Forests report warned.

Unsustainable logging and wood fuel collection is also causing forest degradation – while mining, construction of hydroelectric dams and other projects cause roads to be built that open new areas of forest to settlers and agriculture, WWF warned.

The conservation group is calling for action including expanding and strengthening protected areas, recognising the benefits forests provide and boosting schemes which provide incentives to countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

WWF-UK is campaigning to close European Union loopholes which mean that products such as furniture, books or cards can be sold, which have been made from illegally or unsustainably sourced wood.

Rod Taylor, director of WWF’s global forest programme, said: “Imagine a forest stretching across Germany, France, Spain and Portugal wiped out in just 20 years.

“We must tackle that risk to save the communities and cultures that depend on forests, and ensure forests continue to store carbon, filter our water, supply wood and provide habitat for millions of species.”

Deforestation hotspots around the world, 2010-2030 Photograph: WWF

WWF analysis shows that more than 230m hectares (570m acres) of forest could vanish by 2050 if no action is taken, with the organisation warning that forest loss must be reduced to near zero by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change and economic losses.

WWF-UK’s chief adviser of forests, Will Ashley-Cantello, said: “Deforestation needs to stop if we are to reverse biodiversity loss and combat climate change – which, if unchecked, will affect our quality of life.

“Managing forests sustainably could underpin sustainable development, poverty alleviation and a stable climate around the world.”

He added: “Here in the UK you can still buy furniture, books, cards and other products made from illegally or unsustainably sourced wood. EU rules to prevent the exploitation of forests only cover half of traded products.

“The next UK government should lobby hard to end this nonsense.”