Drivers of deforestation
The following are estimates for drivers of deforestation. Please note that this page will be updated as new data and analyses are published and become available.
The causes of deforestation vary from region to region. In Latin America and Southeast Asia a majority of deforestation is today the result of industrial activities, notably cattle ranching in the Amazon and large-scale agriculture and intensive logging in Southeast Asia. Subsistence agriculture, often using slash-and-burn / fallow techniques, is the most important driver of forest loss in Africa.
While net forest loss has remained relatively constant over the past twenty years, there have been two significant shifts since the late 1980s: (1) old-growth forests are being replaced by plantations and degraded, logged-over forests; and (2) forest clearing is increasingly driven by industry rather than subsistence activities.
Controlling deforestation is imperative to addressing climate change. The annual destruction of 13 million hectares of forest accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, a greater share than all the world's trucks, cars, ships, and airplanes combined.
Estimates based on HK Gibbs (2008):
Drivers of deforestation in Central America
Drivers of deforestation in South America
Drivers of deforestation in Southeast Asia
Drivers of deforestation in Tropical Africa
Estimates from Project Catalyst (2008):
Drivers of deforestation in South America (Neotropics)
Drivers of deforestation in Southeast Asia
Drivers of deforestation in Africa
Continental-level estimations of the importance of deforestation drivers as reported by 46 countries: (a) in terms of overall continental proportions as sum of country data weighted by net forest area change by country (km2/y, FAO, 2010a) for the period 2000–2010 (b) the same data shown in terms of absolute national net forest area change by (km2/y, FAO, 2010a), and (c) for continental estimations of relative importance of degradation drivers (Source: Hosonuma et al., 2012). Caption and image courtesy of Kissinger et al. Click image to enlarge. More information
By Rhett Butler
Recent articles about deforestation
Saving Asia's other endangered cats
(10/21/2014) It's no secret that when it comes to the wild cats of Asia—and, really, cats in general—tigers get all the press. In fact, tigers—down to an estimated 3,200 individuals—arguably dominate conservation across Asia. But as magnificent, grand, and endangered as the tiger is, there are a number of other felines in the region that are much less studied—and may be just as imperiled.
Indonesian law bars palm oil companies from protecting forests
(10/21/2014) A law passed by the Indonesian government last month makes it even more difficult for palm oil companies to conserve tracts of wildlife-rich and carbon-dense forests within their concessions, potentially undermining these producers' commitments to phase deforestation out of their supply chains, warns a new report published by Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental group.
Indonesia developing mega coal mine five times larger than Singapore
(10/20/2014) Global miner BHP Billiton and Indonesian partner PT Adaro are developing what could become the single largest mine in Indonesia in terms of land area, with BHP owning 75 percent. The IndoMet mine complex in Central and East Kalimantan provinces on Borneo comprises seven coal concessions, which cover 350,000 hectares, or about five times the size of Singapore.
Indonesia’s tough choice: capping coal as Asian demand grows
(10/17/2014) Indonesia cannot build power stations fast enough. And neither can most of its Asian neighbors. Rapid economic and population growth are driving equally rapid demands for electricity as the region builds out power grids to connect up millions of people to fuel prosperity.
Push to undermine Indonesia's new president could stymie environmental progress, say NGOs
(10/17/2014) concerted push by political elites to undermine Indonesia's president before he even takes office could stymie progress on social and environmental issues in the country, say Indonesian civil society groups. On July 9, former Surakarta (Solo) and Jakarta mayor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo beat ex-general Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia's presidential election by 8.4 million votes. Yet despite the wide margin, Jokowi has been stung by a series of political setbacks that will hinder his ability to govern once he assumes office Monday.
To become less damaging, target non-forest lands for palm oil, says book
(10/16/2014) Palm oil production has been spectacularly profitable but ecologically disastrous across Southeast Asia, consuming millions of hectares of indigenous lands, rainforests, and peatlands in recent decades. That paradox has made the crop highly controversial despite its importance in providing a high-yielding source of vegetable oil. A new book, published freely online by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), weighs in on the debate and concludes — like many before it — that the problem is not the crop itself, but how it is produced.
Indonesia tries to clamp down on coal sector’s worst excesses
(10/16/2014) Out of the jungles of East Borneo in Indonesia comes the fire that fuels Asia’s burgeoning economies: coal. Miners dig deep open pits, clearing forests and farmlands to extract coal from thick black seams, which is then crushed and loaded onto trucks and barges for shipment to China, India, Japan and other destinations in Asia.
Researchers create global map of world's forests circa 1990
(10/14/2014) Researchers have created a global map of the world's forests in the year 1990, enabling accurate comparisons between past and current deforestation rates. The GIS data underpinning the map is available at LandCover.org.
As Amazon deforestation falls, small farmers play bigger role in forest clearing
(10/14/2014) Smallholder properties account for a rising proportion of overall deforestation in Brazilian Amazon, suggesting that Brazil’s progress in cutting forest loss through stricter law enforcement may be nearing the limits of its effectiveness, finds a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Rogue palm oil company appeals deforestation case to Indonesia's supreme court
(10/14/2014) Oil palm company PT. Kallista Alam has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court continuing the closely-watched legal battle set to redefine Indonesia's commitment to environmental justice. Lawyers for the company filed the new appeal on October 6, claiming the initial case is invalid because it failed to include all relevant parties as defendants—including the governor of Aceh, who issued the concession permit in 2011.
Forest restoration commitments: driven by science or politics?
(10/10/2014) During September's UN Climate Summit, three African nations were recognized for their commitments to restore collectively millions of hectares of forest. But several organizations declined invitations to sign the pact because they say it fails to lay out “concrete action” to fight climate change, and some experts in the field worry that the announcements are little more than political posturing.
'A remarkable conservation achievement': Ecuador reserve expands as forest disappears
(10/09/2014) A strip of rainforest running along the northwestern Ecuadorian coast and up through Colombia is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Yet, less than 10 percent of Ecuador’s portion remains intact, with more forest lost every year to human development. But a little more has been saved for now, with 500 hectares added to an area reserve.
Forest fragmentation's carbon bomb: 736 million tonnes C02 annually
(10/09/2014) Scientists have long known that forest fragments are not the same ecologically as intact forest landscapes. When forests are slashed into fragments, winds dry out the edges leading to dying trees and rising temperatures. Biodiversity often drops, while local extinctions rise and big animals vanish. Now, a new study finds another worrisome impact of forest fragmentation: carbon emissions.
Brazil unlikely to sustain gains in reducing deforestation without new incentives for ranchers, says study
(10/09/2014) Cattle ranchers that drive the vast majority of forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon are unlikely to be held at bay indefinitely unless they are afforded new incentives for keeping trees standing, argues new analysis published by an economic research group. The findings suggest that Brazil's recent progress in reducing deforestation — annual forest loss in the region has dropped by roughly 80 percent since 2004 — could easily be reversed.
Report rates palm oil companies on sustainability commitments
(10/05/2014) A new report published Forest Heroes, an advocacy campaign pushing for an end to deforestation, ranks global palm oil companies on their sustainability commitments. The Green Tigers, authored by Glen Hurowitz, reviews the recent history of environmental policies in the palm oil sector, beginning with the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004 through the wave of comprehensive zero deforestation commitments in 2013-2014.
Central Kalimantan to set up palm oil monitoring system to in bid cut deforestation 80%
(10/05/2014) The Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan is moving forward on an oil palm plantation monitoring system it hopes will help meet a commitment to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020. The online monitoring system will include "information on the performance of plantation concessions such as productivity, the number of smallholder farmers, deforestation and other land cover change, and fire occurrence," according to Earth Innovation Institute which designed and is helping the provincial government implement the system.
Companies hire local communities to evade palm oil restrictions in Indonesia
(10/04/2014) As more palm oil companies are held accountable for deforestation in Indonesia, a growing number are hiring local communities to do their dirty work. According to the Oil Palm Farmers Union (SPKS), companies promise to buy mature fruits at attractive rates from smallholders and local villages who agree to clear and plant in protected forest areas. Through these agreements, companies distance themselves from the process, leaving the locals to bear responsibility for the destruction.
Despite high deforestation, Indonesia making progress on forests, says Norwegian official
(10/02/2014) Despite having a deforestation rate that now outpaces that of the Brazilian Amazon, Indonesia is beginning to undertake critical reforms necessary to curb destruction of its carbon-dense rainforests and peatlands, says a top Norwegian official. Speaking with mongabay.com in Jakarta on Monday, Stig Traavik, Norway's ambassador to Indonesia, drew parallels between recent developments in Indonesia and initiatives launched in Brazil a decade ago, when deforestation was nearly five times higher than it is today.
High Court denies appeal by palm oil company that cleared protected peat forest
(09/30/2014) Furthering Indonesia's renewed commitment to environmental justice, the High Court of Banda Aceh denied an appeal by PT. Kallista Alam, the oil palm company found guilty of destroying over 1,000 hectares of protected peat forest in Gunung Leuser ecosystem. The Court upheld the previous ruling, which fined the company 366 billion rupiah ($30 million) in penalties and restoration fees.
Malaysian palm oil company destroys Borneo forests, despite buyer's zero deforestation commitment
(09/30/2014) Malaysian palm oil company Genting Plantations is continuing to destroy forests despite a high-profile pledge by one of its customers to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain, alleges a report published by Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental group.
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