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Despite gains in Brazil, forest destruction still 'stubbornly' high — report

PARIS, France — The world lost 10 football fields of old-growth tropical forest every minute in 2023 and despite uplifting progress in the Amazon, the picture elsewhere is less rosy, researchers said on Thursday.

Tropical forests absorb carbon and are a vital ally in the fight against climate change, but they are also the most ravaged by deforestation.

High rates of tropical forest loss remain "stubbornly consistent" despite nations pledging in recent years to protect these critical environments, said researchers from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the University of Maryland.

Around 3.7 million hectares of primary tropical forest -- an area nearly the size of Bhutan -- was lost last year, they said.

"Impressive" declines in Brazil and Colombia were "largely counteracted by increases" in tropical forest lost elsewhere, said Mikaela Weisse from WRI, a nonprofit research organisation.

"The world took two steps forward, two steps back when it comes to this past year's forest loss," said Weisse, director of WRI's Global Forest Watch, which uses satellite imagery to aid its analysis.

They focused on tropical forests because of their particular vulnerability to deforestation and capacity to store carbon, and considered various causes of destruction including farming, logging and fires.

The 2023 figures represent a nine percent decline in forest loss compared to 2022 but in general, rates have barely wavered from the highs of recent years, researchers said.

Aside from soaking up huge quantities of carbon, tropical forests protect soil, host the majority of the world's plant and animal species, and filter air and water.

But there was good news from Brazil, which lost 36 percent less primary forest than the year prior -- its lowest level since 2015.

This "dramatic" decline was most pronounced in the Amazon, a rainforest so vast that it stores the equivalent of around 20 years of emissions of carbon dioxide.

Researchers said this coincided with the first year of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who vowed to defend the Amazon and restore forest protections after former leader Jair Bolsonaro revoked environmental safeguards.

There were disparities across the