Every year, 50 million acres of tropical rainforest – an area the size of Britain – is destroyed. It is cut down to make way for crops, to produce timber or for new grazing land for livestock.
Rainforest once covered 12% of the world’s surface – now they cover just 5%.
Campaigners have long fought against this destruction on the grounds that rainforests are home to more than two-thirds of the world’s species but they now have a new and more urgent argument – climate change.
The argument is two-fold. When rainforests are destroyed it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The less rainforest there is the less carbon dioxide is absorbed.
We’re not talking about small amounts either. Deforestation accounts for 5% of the global annual carbon dioxide emissions: more than the combined emissions of every car, plane and ship in the world.
Prince's Rainforest Project
Rainforests also absorb 15% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Every acre of rainforest we lose costs us twice over in the amount of greenhouse gases circulating in the atmosphere and contributing to the global warming effect.
Prince’s rainforest plan
One of those taking the issue seriously is Prince Charles, who once said: "If we lose the battle against tropical deforestation, we lose the battle against climate change."
He wants developed countries like the UK, USA and Japan to pay rainforest nations like Brazil, Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to prevent deforestation.
In an effort to pressurise global leaders to agree to such a proposal Prince Charles has launched a new online petition, www.rainforestSOS.org.
With the help of his sons, Princes William and Harry, and celebrities including Joss Stone and Bond hero Daniel Craig, he has created a short film. Not usually synonymous with viral internet campaigns, Charles hopes the film and website will help spread the message about deforestation.
Prince's rainforest project
"Our aim, with your help, is to build an online community to call, from the bottom up, for urgent action to protect the rainforests, without which we will most certainly lose the battle against catastrophic climate change," he said.
Will it work?
Former Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper, who now advises the Prince on deforestation, said the idea of a fund was necessary to stop the destruction of rainforests and avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
"It’s an economic problem that requires an economic solution. [Other solutions such as] carbon markets won’t deliver the immediate resources we need to give countries to prevent deforestation," he said.
Some campaigning groups, however, remain sceptical about developed countries paying rainforest nations to stop deforestation.
Matthew Owen is the director of Cool Earth, a charity that raises money to invest directly in local projects that prevent deforestation rather than through national governments. He believes the issue is too pressing to wait for a global agreement.
"[The prince’s proposal] would require huge, structural investment – something that can easily get sidelined in an economic downturn," he said.
"You need a combination of both a global response and doing it on the ground. We already have 100,000 members making a contribution and having a direct impact in preventing deforestation," he said.