The BBC just can’t seem to stop itself trying to frighten people over climate change. On Tuesday morning it was the turn of Radio 4’s Food for Life by King’s College London professor Tim Spector. The show began with an extraordinary claim: ‘Most predictions concur that if we don’t change our habits fast, by 2050 the Earth will have lost most of its trees and habitable areas.’
Really? I contacted Spector over where he sourced this claim and was told that the claims were ‘in the IPCC reports’. But are we really on course to lose most of our trees in just 26 years’ time? The IPCC’s latest Special Report on Climate Change and Land does not appear to make any confident prediction for future tree cover, and there is not a lot of support for Spector’s claim from data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. There has been a substantial net loss of global forest area in recent years: 4.7 million hectares per year between 2010 and 2020. But to put that into context there is still an estimated four billion hectares of forest. The net loss in the 2010s, in other words, represents less than 1.2 per cent of the total. Moreover, the rate of deforestation has been gradually falling in recent decades – it was 78 million hectares in the 1990s and 52 million hectares in the 2000s.
In other words if we carry on the way we are going we might expect to lose no more than around 3 per cent of our forest over the next three decades – which is hardly ‘most’ of our trees.
As for the claim that we will lose most of our habitable areas, it is hard to know what is meant by this. Did Spector mean wide areas are going to be flooded? The IPCC suggests global sea levels will rise by between 0.15