What are the effects of deforestation? Learn all about one of the main issues driving climate change

11/04/2023 | Santander Universidades

Did you know that tackling deforestation is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Both deforestation and desertification, caused by human activity and climate change, pose serious challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and means of subsistence of millions of people. For this reason, SDG No. 15 highlights the need to tackle the threats facing wildlife and ecosystems as a result of the effects of deforestation.

This is a new challenge for current and future generations, so much so that in one of her speeches, the activist Greta Thunberg stated that the global climate crisis "is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced", adding that as humans we have an extraordinary ability to adapt, but only "when we are aware, we act and change”.

In this article, you can read all about the concept of climate change, its causes, and what the effects of deforestation are

CTA - Text

What is deforestation?

Before learning about what the effects of deforestation are, it's vital to understand the meaning of this term, and how it relates to concepts such as desertification and climate change.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines deforestation as "the permanent clearance of a forest, usually rapidly by cutting or burning over a large area, without replanting or natural regeneration." So, this is an issue caused by both the impact of human activity and natural causes, which results in the loss of forests and jungles. 

According to the Deforestation Fronts Report 2021 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in the last 13 years, over 43 million hectares of forest have been obliterated, a land area greater than the US state of California. These data starkly reflect the urgent need to focus on protecting those areas most at risk of suffering such devastating consequences.

In this regard, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia were the three countries most affected by deforestation in 2020, the greatest loss of primary forest being registered in these countries, according to the most recent report by Global Forest Watch.

Causes of global deforestation

Understanding this issue is vital if we want to find effective solutions to halt its advance. While the causes are varied - both natural and human - the effects of deforestation on the environment are irreversible. Below are some of the main causes.

Natural factors

Amongst the natural factors are tree diseases, pests and forest fires which, besides destroying ecosystems and biodiversity, release huge volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

In fact, according to data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in 2019, forest fires emitted 7.8 billion tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 25 times Spain's annual emissions.

Human factors

However, human activity - such as the uncontrolled expansion of agriculture due to the increase in population and the need to secure resources, building infrastructure, mining activities and urban development - are the primary factors behind worldwide deforestation, via uncontrolled logging. 

What are the effects of deforestation?

Deforestation is one of the major environmental problems facing the planet today and it is therefore urgent to take steps that help to reduce the damage. Some of the main effects of deforestation are: 

  • Economic and environmental instability: natural spaces, such as forests and jungles, are direct sources of raw materials, fuel and the components of medicine, meaning that in the long-term, a lack of these resources may lead to economic and environmental instability.
  • Disruption of the water cycle: forests make soils richer in organic matter and more resistant to issues such as erosion. However, logging of forests affects the water cycle, which shifts to other areas of vegetation, meaning soils become eroded and this coverage is lost. 
  • Loss of biodiversity: the disappearance of large forested areas directly threatens the life of living beings and their ecosystems. There are over 7.7 million different species on the planet and more than 20% of these are in danger of extinction, as National Geographic points out.
  • Global warming: this is one of the main effects of deforestation, as, without trees, CO2 stays in the atmosphere, causing the infamous greenhouse effect.

An Energy and Climate Programme expert at WWF Spain, Sergio Bonati, in press releases, stresses the gravity of the rise in global temperatures, as with every fraction of an increase, the environmental impact grows greater. 

  • Desertification of soils: with a rise in temperatures and a shortage of water due to the indiscriminate annual felling of millions of trees, fertile lands turn into desert.

Targets and measures to reduce the damage caused by climate change

The wellbeing of Planet Earth is fundamental if we hope to stabilise ecosystems and biodiversity. To this end, we must ensure its stability is not affected by external actions.

Combating the effects of deforestation requires projects that are environmentally friendly and which contribute to reducing the negative impact through policies linked to farming practices and the implementation of forest carbon.

  • Agroforestry is a cultivation method that incorporates trees into agricultural systems, preserving soils, restoring damaged ecosystems and improving crop production conditions.
  • Forest carbon projects aim to restore and preserve forests, as well as support the socio-economic development of disadvantaged communities through tree planting.

Besides these initiatives, it's also crucial to offer incentives to companies that adopt such measures as well as establish supervisory bodies to oversee the proper implementation of these. The fact is that, as responsible consumers, we play a vital role in combating deforestation and its effects thus reducing our environmental footprint.

The major challenge of the 21st century is to tackle the climate crisis and foster sustainable policies to end deforestation and global warming. That's why it's so important to be aware of what's happening around us, to serve as agents of change and implement efficient measures that are environmentally friendly.

As part of its commitment to education and continuous training as one of the best ways to accelerate the transition process towards a green economy, and to help people progress, overcome the challenges posed by the fourth industrial revolution and grow inclusively and sustainably, Banco Santander is committed to three key concepts: lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling. To support this commitment, it has created the Santander Open Academy website, a unique and pioneering global programme. 

If you would like to keep growing personally and professionally, head over to the Santander Open Academy website, where you'll find 100s of opportunities to train together with internationally renowned institutions. Access training in technology, languages, research, investigation, soft skills, internships and female leadership, which will help you to improve your employability or refocus your career.


Do you want to become a lifelong learner and increase your job opportunities? The Santander Open Academy website has plenty of options to help you achieve your goals. Check out the website and remember: you can sign up for as many courses as you like. Make the most of this opportunity!

CTA banner

More posts to read...