Find out facts about rainforests on this page, including where they are, what they do for us, and why and how they should be saved.
Did you know?
- Rainforests cover 5% of the Earth and are home to half the world’s plant and animal species.
- There are loads of insects in the rainforest – often more than 50,000 insect species in a square mile.
- Sloths, from South American rainforests, move so slowly that algae can grow in their fur.
- Orang-utans’ homes are destroyed when forests are felled to grow oil palm. Oil palm is found in nearly half of the bestselling products in supermarkets.
What they do for us
Rainforests may be far away from Cornwall but they help keep us fed, watered and cool every day. They are our planet’s life support system in lots of ways.
They help control the Earth’s climate. Absorbing masses of CO2, storing loads of carbon, making lots of rain… and they make huge white clouds. White reflects heat, keeping the Earth cool.
Food, fabric and medicines
Many products we use originate in the rainforest such as chocolate, papaya, spices, rubber wellies, medicines.
Rain from the rainforest is used to water crops all over the world including rice, potatoes and wheat.
Millions of people live in and make their living from the rainforests.
What’s the problem?
An area of primary forest the size of this Biome is destroyed every 10 seconds. Serious stuff: we need to stop cutting them down as well as reducing our CO2 levels, to win the battle against climate change. Want to know more?
What can we do?
- Shop for products which look after the forest (e.g. FSC, Rainforest Alliance) and avoid products that don’t (e.g. forests are often felled to grow soya, oil palm and meat).
- Support rainforest charities and organisations working to save the forest.
- Write letters on rainforest issues to politicians at home and abroad.
- Volunteer for a rainforest charity (here or abroad). Want to know more?
Where and what are rainforests?
The Humid Tropic Regions are located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn approximately 23.5º N and S of the Equator. The average temperature is 25ºC all year round (5ºC variation), with over 90% humidity and 1,500 mm (60”) annual rainfall. Rainforests are full of life; each week new species are discovered. Some, such as cocoa and rubber, have been bred as crops, and more will follow. These massive ecosystems are a vital environmental resource. They control the Earth’s climate. They also do loads of things we don’t yet understand. If we can help the forests to survive then they will help ensure our future survival. They are cleared for agriculture, mining, development and timber, but they can also re-grow or be replanted and managed sustainably for the future.
Why are rainforests important?
Rainforests control our climate by absorbing CO2, acting as a store for carbon, and by making huge white clouds. White reflects heat, keeping the Earth cool. They are called rainforests because they make rain. The Amazon forest releases 20 billion tonnes of moisture every day, helping water crops thousands of miles away.
It is estimated that 12% to 20% of all current carbon emissions come from deforestation and so if we can help the forests to survive, they will help ensure our future survival. Climate change is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. If we bring the use of fossil fuels to zero and don’t halt deforestation we will still breach the safe limit of greenhouse gas concentrations. If we don’t act now it could, potentially catastrophically, narrow the time available to make the necessary transition to a low carbon world (says the IPCC report, the Eliasch Review, Lord Stern and McKinsey and Co.).
‘Rainforest is the glue that holds the climate of our planet together. Lose the forest and it will have devastating consequences for all life on Earth’ Professor Sir Ghillean Prance
Millions of people make their living in and from the rainforest. We need to make the rainforests worth more alive than dead. Approximately 60 million indigenous people rely on the forests for their way of life. Many of these people are threatened by habitat destruction.
Rainforests cover 5% of the Earth and contain over half the world’s plant and animal species. This biodiversity has great medicinal and economic value. More than 70% of plants with anti-cancer properties are found here (according to the US National Cancer Institute). Agricultural scientists use wild strains of rainforest crops to increase yields and resistance to pests and diseases in cultivated varieties. Losing the rainforest could affect our food, water and health. Around 137 species of rainforest plants and animals are wiped out every day. We are losing a treasure trove of potential innovations. Evolution will not make good these extinctions for a million years. We could feel the losses within a generation.
Our consumption helps fuel the destruction:
- Farmers in Brazil can make $3,000 per hectare by clearing forest and growing soybeans for export. Soybeans that end up in our supermarkets in many, many different products, even feeding the cattle that provide the meat for our burgers and pies.
- Over half of deforestation in Africa is carried out by poor farmers practising subsistence agriculture.
- Around 40% of the best-selling products in British supermarkets contain palm oil, linked to rainforest clearance in South East Asia.
A solution is possible but we must act now - we need to make rainforests worth more alive than dead. One way is to pay countries to keep their forests standing through a process called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). The result: the trees stay standing, the world benefits from all the free environmental services the forest provides, countries develop cleaner energy supplies, and carbon stays locked up.
A recent success story is in Ecuador, where the government has agreed to not extract oil sitting beneath one of the world’s most important rainforests in return for payments from the international community.
What you can do
Use your purchasing power
When you shop, you can select products that are certified as ‘forest friendly’. Certification schemes include FSC and the Rainforest Alliance. You can also write to companies and urge them to buy products that do not contribute to tropical deforestation.
Support conservation organisations
There are many organisations/people working to save rainforests. Many, you can support by becoming a member or making a donation.
Encourage governments to take action
Tackling the causes of deforestation will require a new international financing mechanism that puts a value on rainforests. You can encourage your government to play an active role in developing these new global schemes.
Keep up with current news
There’s lots of current info on Plant Talk website.
The Eden Project would like to thank The Prince’s Rainforests Projects for providing some of the content for this page.