YOU might have noticed but there’s been a small gathering in Glasgow this month.

World leaders – including US President Joe Biden – and thousands of delegates met in the city for a climate change summit and trees were high on the agenda.

“These great teeming ecosystems – these cathedrals of nature – are the lungs of our planet,” is how Prime Minister Boris Johnson described them as a pledge was made made to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

READ MORE: Forestry contractor worries of 'b******t' after COP26 deforestation deal

It’s hoped this promise will be one of the lasting legacies of COP26 in Glasgow. But back in the real world things aren’t so simple and it’s foresters and arb contractors – who else? – who are bearing the brunt of the general public’s misunderstanding of the difference between sustainable forestry and deforestation.

So, what exactly does deforestation mean? Here's our handy guide to the subject.

What is deforestation? 

Deforestation is the purposeful clearing of forested land. It can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use, with the most concentrated deforestation occuring in tropical rainforests.

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Throughout history, forests have been razed to make space for agriculture and animal grazing, and to obtain wood for fuel, manufacturing, and construction.

How has it damaged the planet? 

Deforestation has greatly altered landscapes around the world. About 2,000 years ago, 80 per cent of Western Europe was forested; today the figure is 34 per cent, according to the National Geographic. In North America, about half of the forests in the eastern part of the continent were cut down from the 1600s to the 1870s for timber and agriculture. China has lost great expanses of its forests over the past 4,000 years and now just over 20 per cent of it is forested. 

Today, the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring in tropical rainforests, aided by extensive road construction into regions that were once almost inaccessible. 

Forestry Journal: Keith Hunter asks this No Man's Land in the First World War, or deforestation on Ingleby Bank?

With this agricultural method, farmers burn large swaths of forest, allowing the ash to fertilize the land for crops. The land is only fertile for a few years, however, after which the farmers move on to repeat the process elsewhere. Tropical forests are also cleared to make way for logging, cattle ranching, and oil palm and rubber tree plantations.

Deforestation can result in more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. That is because trees take in carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis, and carbon is locked chemically in their wood. When trees are burned, this carbon returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. With fewer trees around to take in the carbon dioxide, this greenhouse gas accumulates in the atmosphere and accelerates global warming. 

Last year, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bolivia, Indonesia and Peru were the top five countries for tropical primary forest loss. About 12m hectares (30m acres) of tree cover was lost in the tropics

What is the threat to wildlife?  

Deforestation also threatens the world’s biodiversity. Tropical forests are home to great numbers of animal and plant species. When forests are logged or burned, it can drive many of those species into extinction. Some scientists say we are already in the midst of a mass-extinction episode.

Forestry Journal: There are an estimated three trillion trees on EarthThere are an estimated three trillion trees on Earth

More immediately, the loss of trees from a forest can leave soil more prone to erosion. This causes the remaining plants to become more vulnerable to fire as the forest shifts from being a closed, moist environment to an open, dry one. 

While deforestation can be permanent, this is not always the case. In North America, for example, forests in many areas are returning thanks to conservation efforts.

What was agreed at COP26? 

More than 100 world leaders have promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, in the COP26 climate summit's first major deal.

READ MORE: Time for Timber: COP26 leaders told to recognise need for wood in construction

Brazil - where stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down - was among the signatories.

Forestry Journal: Prime Minister Boris Johnson Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The pledge includes almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds.

Governments of 28 countries also committed to remove deforestation from the global trade of food and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soya and cocoa.