Nearly 20% of Intact Forest Landscapes Overlap With Extractive Industries Such As Mining, Oil and Gas

Oil and gas exploration in Ecuador.
Credit: Julie Larson Maher/WCS

Intact Forest Landscapes are critical for conserving biodiversity and fighting climate change.

A new study from WCS and WWF reveals that nearly 20 percent of tropical Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) overlap with concessions for extractive industries such as mining, oil and gas. The total area of overlap is 376,449 square miles (975,000 square kilometers), about the size of Egypt. Mining concessions overlap most with tropical IFLs, at 11.33 percent of the total area, while oil and gas concessions overlap with 7.85 percent of the total area.

IFLs are globally important for conserving biodiversity and fighting climate change. These landscapes represent some of the last places on Earth that still contain species assemblages at near-natural levels of abundance. According to 2013 estimates, 549 million acres of intact tropical forests remain. Only 20 percent of tropical forests can be considered “intact,” but those areas store some 40 percent of the above-ground carbon found in all tropical forests. At least 35 percent of intact forests are home to, and protected by, politically and economically marginalized Indigenous Peoples.

Despite intact forests’ extraordinary value for biodiversity and humanity, they are declining at an alarming rate, with over 7 percent of their total area lost between 2000 and 2013. While the growth of extractive industries is recognized as a threat to IFLs, the extent of this threat has not been well understood prior to this study.

The authors calculated the spatial overlap of extractive concessions – specifically, mining, and oil and gas – with IFL datasets in three tropical regions: South America, Asia-Pacific, and Central Africa. Of these regions, Central Africa’s IFLs had the highest overlap with extractive concessions (26 percent). In addition, they identified the specific stages of extractive projects overlapping with IFLs, and found that most leases are in the exploration stage.

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