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Earth on the Edge: ITV News travels to the frontlines of the global deforestation crisis

ITV News has investigated the visible impact of deforestation on our planet. Credit: ITV News

ITV News has travelled to the frontlines of the global battle with deforestation - to the very points where the Earth stands on the edge of environmental catastrophe.

Starting a new series, Earth on the Edge, our correspondents report from Europe, South America and Africa, bearing witness to the troubles which are happening right now and impact us all.

Over the coming months, Earth on the Edge will examine the reality of climate change and the impact it is having on the planet right now.

ITV News discovered piles of illegally felled wood seemingly bound for the European market. Credit: ITV News

ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke travelled to Colombia where he flew across huge swathes of the Amazon destroyed by deforestation - years after the height of the country’s bloody cocaine wars.

ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner exposed the illegal practice of logging in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine, which provokes uneasy questions for the origins of some of the wood imported to the UK from mainland Europe.

While ITV News Africa Correspondent Penny Marshall discovered how far Ghana is now in the grips of a climate change disaster and the charity initiative which is attempting to arrest the disaster.

Why is deforestation so threatening?

Efforts to reverse drastic deforestation are underway in Ghana. Credit: ITV News

When forests are logged or burnt during deforestation carbon is released into the atmosphere.

The increase in the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accelerates the rate of climate change.

Tropical forests hold more than 228-247 million tonnes of carbon, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The release of carbon via deforestation makes up one fifth of man-made emissions across the globe, a greater impact even than transport emissions.

Deforestation and forest degradation is estimated to contribute to 15% of greenhouse emissions.

What has ITV News discovered?

Deforestation in Colombia's Amazon rainforest. Credit: ITV News

Cocaine gangs used to have this land on lockdown – but the new war in the vanishing Amazon is all too clear to see, reports ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke.

From the air you can see why they call Chiribiquete National Park the jewel in the crown of Colombia's Amazon rainforest.

Giant columns of rock break through the tree canopy.

Tremendous waterfalls spill off the table-top mountains, or "tepuis", each with their own unique microclimates, plants and animals.

The park is nearly 17,000 square miles, the largest piece of protected rainforest in the world.

It was created to preserve the way of life for indigenous tribes living within it, and the unique wildlife with which they share the forest.

But it also serves as a giant barrier against the encroaching deforestation that threatens the Amazon rainforest from all sides.

But the barrier is in danger of crumbling. Deforestation is encroaching.

Read Tom’s full report here.

ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner saw fear and terror on the road to exposing the dirty secret Ukrainian loggers are trying to hide from the rest of Europe.

Juliet Bremner and the ITV News team posed as hikers to avoid detection. Credit: ITV News

In the back of an old van bumping along Ukraine's appallingly pot holed roads I witnessed a scene more in keeping with a spy novel than a news story.

It helped to convince me that exposing the problem of illegal logging was dangerous and trying to stop it would be extremely difficult.

Our contact from the forestry commission, blurred to protect his identity. Credit: ITV News

A man dressed in the khaki uniform of the forestry commission was waiting by the side of the road, he exchanged a few words with our driver and jumped into our vehicle asking to sit in between two passengers on the middle row of seats so he would be concealed.

He kept glancing nervously from side to side, as he issued directions and pointed to a path running beside the river.

I was told he was a sympathiser who had agreed to help us and our guides from the environmental protection charity Forest Watch find the newest illegal logging sites.

A lorry with suspected illegal timber was captured by hidden cameras. Credit: ITV News

And he must in no circumstances be seen by other villagers.

When we spotted a man standing on the path ahead gesturing us to stop a wave of panic swept through the van.

The forester ducked down, head between his legs while we covered him with jackets. The man outside peered inside the van and we all held our breath.

ITV News Correspondent Penny Marshall travelled to Ghana and saw the extent of the very real climate catastrophe and the ‘great green wall’ which offers some hope.

Ghana's population is growing while the trees are declining. Credit: ITV News

At first I couldn’t understand what the young woman was doing kneeling alone in the middle of a dry river bed.

But drawing closer I realised she was using her hands to dig for water.

It’s the rainy season in Ghana and this shouldn’t be happening.

Faustina Banasco reaches the depths of the dried-up river bed. Credit: ITV News

The young mother, Faustina Banasco, used to be able to fetch water from the River Akunle all year.

But no longer.

There's a new effort in the fields of Ghana to combat deforestation. Credit: ITV News

Now it is choked with the sandy top soil blown off the nearby fields; fields which have been stripped of trees by the local farmers who need the land to grow crops to feed their families.

This is the price of deforestation.

What does the evidence of deforestation mean for us?

Dr Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist, told ITV News combating climate change, exacerbated by the deforestation seen on camera, is "one of the biggest challenges that we have to face".

She said: "It’s growing all the time as you see – with increased melting of the arctic ice and the glaciers and sea levels are rising and we are releasing more and more carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels.

"And through industrial agriculture - and this is also releasing large amounts of methane and nitrous oxides.

"So all of these are really conspiring - we should be confronting this as one of the greatest environmental emergencies of the last 100 years."

Dr Goodall said leaders who are putting "economic development before saving the environment" are "basically stealing the future for our children as well as destroying ecosystems".

Asked what people can do about the impact of deforestation on a perfect level, she urged: "Make ethical choices, even small ones.

"What we buy what we wear where did it come from? Did it harm the environment?

"Then millions and hopefully billions of even small ethical choices will hopefully make a difference."

More from our Earth on the Edge series: