Global tree cover loss is once again nearing an all-time high, according to new satellite data from Google and the University of Maryland, and tropical forests are disappearing fastest.
"The world lost more than 18 million hectares (45 million acres) of tree cover in 2014, an area twice the size of Portugal," a new report prepared with the data by Global Forest Watch. "The data find that tropical forests are in the most trouble, losing 9.9 million hectares (24.5 million acres) of tree cover in 2014— over half of the global total."
The report identifies five new hotspots of accelerating forest loss, all of them tropical: the Mekong River Basin, West Africa, South America's Gran Chaco region, and Madagascar. According to the data, the report states, the countries with the fastest acceleration of tree cover loss are (starting with the highest): Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Uruguay, Paraguay, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Vietnam and Malaysia.
The deforestation is being driven primarily by growing demand for commodities like rubber, soy, and palm oil, and a rapid expansion of agriculture. It's bad news coming on the heels of some fleetingly good news—that deforestation was apparently slowing, even in Indonesia, where the push for palm oil had long made it one of the global leaders of forest loss.
These new hotspots were simply "overlooked," the organization says, as trees were cleared en masse for rubber plantations and cattle ranches. Efforts to slow the rate of deforestation, especially in tropical areas, will need to be redoubled.