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
Timber 'mass graves' uncovered as Malaysian authorities pursue illegal loggers
(05/21/2015) A crackdown on illegal logging in Peninsular Malaysia's largest continuous forest complex has uncovered three timber 'mass graves' – burial sites where valuable logs have been stashed beneath tons of earth to hide evidence. The loggers apparently made haste in fleeing the hilly terrain where they left the timber. A joint operation by Malaysia's antigraft agency and Forestry Department found parts of logs sticking out of the ground and the red earth still unsettled, indications their quarry had hurriedly concealed the felled trees.
VICE’s 'Indonesia's Palm Bomb' presents a tragic view of palm oil driven deforestation from the frontlines
(05/20/2015) For the sixth episode of its third season, HBO’s Emmy-winning news series, VICE, focused its lens on Indonesia’s palm oil industry. The episode, entitled, 'Indonesia's Palm Bomb', follows VICE correspondent, Ben Anderson, as he investigates the environmental and social impact of widespread (and, at times, illegal) deforestation on wildlife and indigenous communities in Sumatra.
Golden Agri takes another hit as sustainability guru suspends its membership
(05/20/2015) The charity that Indonesia's Golden Agri-Resources has enlisted to devise and implement its zero-deforestation and community-engagement commitments suspended its cooperation with the palm oil giant yesterday, following breaches of the policies they had designed together. A few hours later, Golden Agri announced the resignation of its chief sustainability officer.
Tennis star responds to rainforest advocates
(05/20/2015) Roger Federer has responded to two Indonesian activists who asked the tennis star to use his influence to encourage Credit Suisse to end its relationship with a controversial logging company, reports the Bruno Manser Fund.
62M ha of Latin American forests cleared for agriculture since 2001
(05/19/2015) Over 62 million hectares (240,000 square miles) of forest across Latin America — an area roughly the size of Texas or the United Kingdom — were cleared for new croplands and pastureland between 2001 and 2013, find a study published in Environmental Research Letters.
Luxury hotel chain linked to destruction of rainforests
(05/19/2015) The Mandarin Oriental hotel chain has landed in environmentalists' crosshairs for the practices of its sister company Astra Agro Lestari, a rapidly expanding palm oil producer with fully developed plantations on an area larger than Singapore. The new She's Not a Fan campaign – a play off Mandarin's celebrity-fan endorsement drive – launched yesterday with a petition calling on Astra to stop destroying forests and elephant habitat. Multinational conglomerate Jardine Matheson owns both firms.
Malaysian palm oil body encourages fiction over fact
(05/17/2015) In this commentary, David Dellatore, Program Manager at the Sumatran Orangutan Society, questions the value of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council's essay-writing contest which will pay contributors to conclude that palm oil is not a driver of deforestation
What's the current deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest?
(05/15/2015) Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, making it the biggest component in the region's deforestation rate. Helpfully, Brazil also has the best systems for tracking deforestation, with the government and Imazon, a national civil society organization, releasing updates on a quarterly and monthly basis using MODIS satellite data, respectively. Both the Brazilian government and Imazon release more accurate data on an annual basis using higher resolution Landsat satellite imagery.
New genetic analysis aims to guide restoration of overharvested Myanmar teak forests
(05/15/2015) Teak is one of the most valued tropical hardwoods for its beauty, durability, and versatility. Teak trees naturally occur in the Indo-Pacific region, where a long history of exploitation, along with deforestation, has led to declines in the species. A recent study published in mongabay.com's open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, analyzes the genetic makeup of teak in Myanmar, its largest stronghold, and uses the results to offer advice about how Myanmar teak should be conserved.
Satellite images show deforestation on fringes of UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cameroon
(05/14/2015) In the push to become a middle-income country in the next two decades, Cameroon has courted investments in its vast natural resource wealth in the form of mining, logging and large-scale agriculture. But deforestation revealed by a recent Greenpeace Africa investigation highlights a lack of coordination in determining how to use the country’s land.
Scientists reconstruct what was in the Harapan Rainforest of Sumatra
(05/12/2015) A new study published in mongabay.com’s open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science describes how the Harapan Rainforest was prior to extensive logging and compares it to its current condition. The authors call for the Harapan's conservation because it is still very rich in species and holds rare habitats and many endemic plants.
Indonesian forestry giant calls for stronger forest moratorium
(05/11/2015) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), an Indonesian forestry giant once targeted by environmentalists for its logging practices, has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for a stronger moratorium on deforestation and policies that enable companies to support conservation efforts. In a letter released Monday, Aida Greenbury, APP's Managing Director of Sustainability, asked Indonesian President Joko Widodo to extend the country's moratorium on new logging and plantation concessions.
West Papua 'oil palm atlas' portrays industry's explosion in region
(05/06/2015) There's a saying in the Indonesian palm oil industry: Sumatra is yesterday, Kalimantan is today, and Papua is tomorrow. Tomorrow might well have arrived. A new report sheds light on the industry's rapid expansion in Indonesia's Papua and West Papua provinces – and on the companies behind the plantation drive. The result is a portrayal of a frontier region's early encounters with a crop that has come to dominate the Sumatran and Bornean landscapes – a portrait made that much starker by the central government's foreign media blackout in the territory.
Using freely available tools to monitor forest cover in critical chimpanzee habitat
(05/06/2015) Think of it as trying to help the long-lost cousins who never left your home town. Researchers and friends at the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) are doing just that for chimpanzees. Our closest living relatives still live in their hometown African forests but these forests are under increasing threat.
Brazilian Amazon nears deforestation threshold past which wildlife may crash, says study
(05/01/2015) A study on the impact of forest loss on biodiversity, recently published in the journal Conservation Biology, shows that one-third of the Brazilian Amazon is headed toward or has just passed a threshold of forest cover beyond which species loss accelerates and is more damaging.
Sarawak increases fines for illegal logging
(05/01/2015) After decades of intense logging that has left its rainforests degraded, fragmented, and stripped of valuable timber in many areas, the Malaysian state of Sarawak has passed a new forestry bill that could boost penalties for illegal logging.
Palm giants ask Indonesian gov't to clear path toward sustainability
(05/01/2015) Executives from palm oil giants Wilmar, Cargill and Golden Agri Resources appeared at a green investment summit in Jakarta this week, providing a window into the nature of a high-profile, joint sustainability pact the companies have entered into together with Asian Agri, Musim Mas and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The agreement, known as the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge, has been lauded in some quarters for its potential to transform the sector and dismissed in others as mere lip service to protecting the environment.
Gov't officials permitted deforestation in Dominican Republic national park
(04/29/2015) In late 2014, an irregularity in the issuance of permits for agriculture-related deforestation was brought to light by an environmental conservation association working to curb deforestation within the park. On July 30, the Pedernales office of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources granted permission to local landowners to deforest an area within the National Park, close to an area that was being assessed for hutia and solenodon presence by a team of researchers.
Kenya's Karura Forest, symbol of GreenBelt Movement, suffering death by 1,000 cuts
(04/29/2015) The founder of Kenya's GreenBelt Movement, Wangari Maathai, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 because she talked environmental truth to power. She also walked the walk. Especially on a January morning in 1999 when she strode into the Karura Forest, Nairobi's flagship preserve, to plant trees to protest government approved plans to build a private golf course on protected land there.
EU votes to scale back on biofuels linked to deforestation
(04/28/2015) The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly today on a new cap on biofuels derived from edible crops, which critics say not only compete with feeding a growing global population but also contribute to deforestation and release unacceptably high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The new legislation sets the cap on edible food crop biofuels—such as palm oil, corn, rapeseed, and soy—at seven percent.
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