THE BLOG
18/11/2013 06:06 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Note to Governments and Banks: Stop Bankrolling the Destruction of Planet Earth

Good news is relatively rare in the world of forest protection, especially in the tropics where ecosystems and biodiversity are disappearing at such an alarming rate. That's why Brazil's announcement last year of a large drop in the Amazon's rate of forest loss was met with such elation.

Not anymore. Yesterday, new data revealed a massive 28 per cent rise in deforestation over the last year in Brazil's Amazon. This is the largest area of forest left on the planet, and we simply cannot afford to lose it if we want to survive.

This huge loss of ground in Brazil isn't the worst of today's news, either. Google has just done the world and future generations a huge favour by providing a high resolution global map of forest loss, which reveals in stark detail how much trouble the world's forests are in.

Taking data from 650,000 satellite images, this powerful new evidence shows that fifty football pitches of forest cover are being wiped out every minute. Every minute. Between 2000 and 2012, an area of forest six times larger than the UK was lost.

According to a study in the journal Science, which analysed the new data, the worst hit countries are not in Latin America but South-east Asia, principally Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. These places are under enormous pressure from industrial logging and plantations for things like palm oil and rubber - the raw materials of global consumption.

These are dirty trades. Global Witness' investigations in this region have exposed the secrecy and illegality that so often lies behind large land deals, allowing global elites to profit at the expense of forests and the people who depend on them. For example, our undercover work has shown how the corrupt ruling elite in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, have made a fortune shredding the state's forests, leaving it with just five percent left intact - yet it still exports more tropical timber than Africa and Latin America combined. Meanwhile, the people who live in and depend on the forest have suffered human rights abuses and seen their livelihoods ruined.

Sarawak's dubious loggers had outside help, too - HSBC made nearly £100million from providing loans and financial services to Sarawak's loggers, breaking all its own sustainability rules in the process, while banks in Singapore helped Sarawak's Chief Minister Taib and his associates hide the dirty profits of logging and land grabs from citizens and others. This matters. It simply wouldn't be possible for the world's logging and palm oil giants to be stripping the world of its resources without the loans and kudos they are lent by big banks, investment funds and - incredibly - international aid donors.

Similar forces are driving the destruction of the Amazon, and we are watching them too. Google's new tool will help us stop the worst of this behaviour - it sends a powerful message to loggers and agri-business that they are being watched, even in the most remote areas of the world. This can help efforts to ensure deals for land and forests are done in the open, and with the consent of the people who live in them.

But we won't save the world's forests by ending corporate skulduggery alone. The data released this week underlines the urgent need to re-think how the global economy works. These huge rates of deforestation are obviously unsustainable, but they will continue unless we confront the need to move away from an economy based on addiction to cheap timber and cash crops like soya and palm oil. This is what drives the expansion of the global logging and agribusiness sectors that are killing our life-supporting ecosystems. An economy that eats itself cannot support us, so we must find new models. Rather than blindly supporting the march of the loggers into new forest areas, banks and donor governments should be looking to finance the development of genuinely sustainable alternatives as a matter of priority.