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
Legislation protecting Indonesia's indigenous communities is not good enough, says advocacy group
(09/18/2014) Approaching final legalization, an advocacy group for Indonesia’s indigenous communities has asked to postpone passing a bill granting protections to indigenous people, stating some demands still need to be addressed.
The cheap option on climate change: recognize indigenous rights to forests
(09/18/2014) Since 2008, governments have invested $1.64 billion in funds to kick-start REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation
and Degradation, the global effort to conserve the world's forests in order to better mitigate climate change. However, a new report by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) finds that same amount of money could have secured the legal rights of indigenous and local people to 450 million hectares of forest, an area 40 percent larger than India.
'The green Amazon is red with indigenous blood': authorities pull bodies from river that may have belonged to slain leaders
(09/17/2014) Peruvian authorities have pulled more human remains from a remote river in the Amazon, which may belong to one of the four murdered Ashaninka natives killed on September 1st. It is believed the four Ashaninka men, including renowned leader Edwin Chota Valera, were assassinated for speaking up against illegal logging on their traditional lands.
Activists urge outgoing Indonesian president to protect key forest area before he steps down
(09/17/2014) Activists have launched an urgent appeal calling upon outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to step up protection of the only ecosystem that houses Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers.
From 'production' forests to protected forests, groups work to save Sumatran orangutan habitat. But will it be enough?
(09/16/2014) The orangutan is native exclusively to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra — two regions that have seen the brunt of Indonesia's recent forest destruction due primarily to logging and plantation development. Although there are anywhere from 45,000 to 69,000 Bornean orangutans remaining in the wild, the Sumatran species numbers only about 7,300 according to a 2004 survey, and is dwindling further every year.
Brazil's planned Tapajós dams would increase Amazon deforestation by 1M ha
(09/14/2014) A plan to build a dozen dams in the Tapajós river basin would drive the loss of an additional 950,000 hectares of rainforest by 2032 by spurring land speculation and mass migration to the region, suggests a new study published by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO.
As Bolivia plans dramatic agro-expansion, forests may pay the price (PART II)
(09/12/2014) In an August 14 announcement, Bolivian Vice President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, laid out an ambitious plan to increase the country’s cropland by 250 percent, and triple its agricultural output. The proposal is touted as way to increase both food and economic security for the inland South American country, but what will it mean for its forests?
Palm oil company continues to operate illegal plantation despite court ruling
(09/12/2014) A palm oil company in Central Kalimantan continues to operate business as usual, despite a Supreme Court ruling confirming it has no legal permit to do so. Since 2009, PT Hati Prima Agro (HPA), a subsidiary of palm oil giant Bumitama Gunajaya Agro Group (BGA), has cleared over 7,000 ha of land in Central Kalimantan, even though their permits were revoked by the Ministry of Forestry in 2008.
Brazil confirms last year's rise in Amazon deforestation
(09/12/2014) Brazil's National Space Agency INPE has officially confirmed last year's rise in Amazon deforestation.
Illegal tropical deforestation driven globally by “agro-conversion”
(09/11/2014) Nearly 50 percent of tropical deforestation to make room for commercial agriculture between 2000 and 2012 was done so illegally. That’s a key finding of a report published by the U.S.-based nonprofit organization Forest Trends looking at the global tide of tropical forest “agro-conversion.”
FSC meeting weighs old-growth forest protection, smallholder participation
(09/11/2014) The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a body that sets social and environmental certification criteria for forestry products, is weighing measures that could step up protection for old-growth forests and make it easier for indigenous people and traditional forest communities to qualify for certification. The measures are set for a vote this week at the body's General Assembly, which is held every three years to establish and revise criteria that underpin the standard.
Bolivian vice president proposes unprecedented agricultural expansion (PART 1)
(09/10/2014) On August 14, the Bolivian Vice President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, made a startling announcement: by 2025, Bolivia was going to make two striking developments - first, it would expand all cultivated land to 2.5 times its present area, and second, it would triple food production from 15 to 45 million tons.
Elephants pay the price for palm oil in Malaysian Borneo, impact may reach far beyond reported kills
(09/10/2014) More than a dozen elephant kills were reported in Sabah in 2013 alone, but it is unknown exactly how many have lost their lives in recent years as palm plantations encroach further and further into the rainforest. What is clear is that if the loss of their forest habitat continues to drive conflicts with humans at the rate it is now, Borneo elephants’ long-term survival may be in jeopardy.
Malaysian palm oil chief misleads on deforestation
(09/10/2014) One of Malaysia's top palm oil officials has once again misled the public on the state of forests in Malaysia.
Companies at risk of sourcing illegal palm oil despite zero deforestation commitments, finds investigation
(09/05/2014) Major palm oil suppliers may be continuing to buy tainted palm oil despite high-profile commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, reports a new investigation published by Eyes on the Forest.
Canada, Russia, Brazil lead world in old-growth forest loss
(09/05/2014) Every day, the world loses about 50,000 hectares of forest to agricultural clearing, road development, and other human activities, constricting true wilderness into smaller and smaller areas – along with the species that inhabit them. New analysis and maps released this week show these last vestiges are disappearing at a quick pace, with more than 104 million hectares degraded from 2000 to 2013.
REDD+ versus indigenous people? Why a tribe in Panama rejected pay for their carbon-rich forests
(09/04/2014) There isn’t a word or phrase in the Kuna language for "carbon trading,” and much less for something as complex as REDD+. Standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, REDD+ is the worldwide UN-backed climate change mitigation scheme that relies on carbon trading within forest landscapes to fund forest conservation programs. And yet, since 2008, the Kuna people have been hearing lots about it and referring to it often in their private conversations.
The last of her kind: centennial of the death of the world's last passenger pigeon
(09/01/2014) They once numbered in the billions, flying 60 miles per hour in flocks that darkened the sky. But on September 1, 1914, one hundred years ago today, the last member of what may have been the most numerous bird species on the planet died in a cage in the Cincinnati zoo.
'A global tragedy' in the making? Thailand plans highway expansion through World Heritage Site
(08/29/2014) Dong Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex (DPKY-FC) is the largest tract of surviving forest in central Thailand, renowned for its biodiversity. Now, the Thai government is planning major expansions to a road that bisects the complex – which scientists say will bar animal movement throughout their natural ranges, result in higher rates of road kill, and give hunters and loggers increased access to the forest.
More trouble with tar sands: oil extraction leading to big forest loss in Alberta
(08/29/2014) Tar sands operations have been the subject of much controversy over the past few years as expected economic gains for Canada the may come at the cost of environmental damage from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Now another negative impact has come to light - deforestation of the boreal forest overlying the oil deposits.
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