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
Despite campaign, Girl Scout cookies still aren't deforestation free, say scout activists
(04/25/2014) Despite a high-profile campaign that caused one of the world's largest food companies to adopt a comprehensive zero deforestation policy, Girl Scout cookies still aren't necessarily free of rainforest destruction and social conflict, say the two girl scouts who launched the protest seven years ago.
The beef with beef: how 12 strategies could drastically cut agricultural emissions
(04/25/2014) Eating less beef, cutting food waste, and utilizing farm landscapes to sequester carbon are three ways a new report suggests the world could rapidly tackle agricultural emissions. Currently, global agriculture accounts for nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions when agriculturally-linked deforestation is included.
'Better late than never': Myanmar bans timber exports to save remaining forests
(04/24/2014) Myanmar contains some of Asia's largest forests, but has been losing them at a rapid pace during the last two decades as logging companies emptied woodlands to meet the demands of the lumber industry. In an effort to save its disappearing forests, Myanmar implemented a landmark ban on timber exports, effective March 31, 2014.
Brazil's new Forest Code a mixed bag for native ecosystems
(04/24/2014) The revised Forest Code passed into law by Brazil in 2012 could authorize conversion of 400,000 square miles of native grassland for industrial agriculture, while granting amnesty for deforesters in the Amazon rainforest, argues a policy piece published this week in the journal Science.
Special Report: Palm oil, political interests, and land use in Indonesian Borneo (Part I)
(04/24/2014) As one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, Indonesia is often at the receiving end of criticism and protests by activists, and even by its own people. Its poor forest and land management practices, which have been going on for decades, have degraded both its landscapes and its reputation.
After widespread deforestation, China bans commercial logging in northern forests
(04/22/2014) Forestry authorities in China have stopped commercial logging in the nation's largest forest area, marking an end to more than a half-century of intensive deforestation that removed an estimated 600 million cubic meters (21 billion cubic feet) of timber. The logging shutdown was enacted in large part to protect soil and water quality of greater China, which are significantly affected by forest loss in the mountainous region.
NASA detects surge in deforestation in Malaysia, Bolivia during first quarter of 2014
(04/21/2014) Forest disturbance in Malaysia, Bolivia, Panama, and Ecuador surged during the first quarter of 2014, according to NASA data.
APRIL continued destroying high conservation rainforest up until January pledge
(04/21/2014) Plantation giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) continued to source fiber produced by destruction of high conservation value forests in Sumatra right up until it committed to a new forest conservation policy, according to an investigation by Eyes of the Forest, a coalition of environmental groups in Riau.
Behind the scenes of Showtime's blockbuster series on climate change
(04/18/2014) For years climate change activists and environmentalists have been clamoring for a high-profile, high-impact TV series about climate change to make Americans more aware of an issue that will affect billions of people around the globe in coming decades. This week they finally got it when Showtime released the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously, a big-budget TV series featuring a number of Hollywood's biggest stars as reporters and corespondents.
Rainforests on fire: climate change is pushing the Amazon over the edge
(04/18/2014) From 1999-2010, nearly three percent of the Amazon rainforest burned, and climate forecasts indicate dry conditions conducive to fire will only become more commonplace in the future. A new study indicates that rainforests are more vulnerable to fire than previously thought, and it warns the current combination of climate change and deforestation may be pushing Amazon forests past the breaking point.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Maps for the masses
(04/18/2014) Mark Mulligan makes maps for the masses. In his work on tropical forests, Mulligan uses GIS, modeling, remote sensing, and lab experiments to turn research into datasets and policy support systems, which are available online for use in development, decision-making, and education.
Is Aru safe? Indonesia suspends plan to clear half the islands' forests
(04/17/2014) Aru, an area made up of about ninety-five low-lying islands in the Maluku province of eastern Indonesia, has suspended a plan to clear half of its total forest cover for sugar cane. However, the island paradise is still not safe from large-scale deforestation, according to a report from Mongabay-Indonesia.
Legal logging concessions drive illegal logging in Peru, threatening forests and indigenous people
(04/17/2014) Nearly 70 percent of "officially inspected" logging concessions in Peru have had their permits canceled or are under investigation for major breaches of forestry laws, finds a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Worryingly, the research also concludes that forestry permits are being widely used to launder timber illegally logged from outside concession areas.
Malaysia at risk of falling behind in push for more sustainable palm oil
(04/17/2014) The Malaysian state should play a more active role in supporting the transition toward less environmentally destructive palm oil production, says a coalition of Malaysian NGO's. In a statement issued Sunday, the Malaysian Palm Oil NGO Coalition (MPONGOC) urged Malaysian banks, palm oil associations, and other government-backed institutions to commit to 'improving social and environmental standards in the palm oil industry'.
Ants plant rainforests, one seed at a time
(04/14/2014) Deforestation is destroying forests around the world, but its effects are especially obvious in the Amazon Basin. Due to cattle ranching, soybean farming, logging, and slash-and-burn agriculture, the rainforest is disappearing at a rapid pace. But a recent study published in the Journal of Ecology offers a unique solution to replanting the deforested landscapes: ants.
Forests in Indonesia's concession areas being rapidly destroyed
(04/10/2014) Forest clearing within areas zoned for timber, logging, oil palm, and mining accounted for nearly 45 percent of deforestation in Indonesia between 2000 and 2010, finds a new study that examined forest loss within industrial concessions.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Empowering everyone to watch over forests
(04/10/2014) Nigel Sizer has worked on the forefront of global forest issues for decades. Currently, he is the Global Director of the World Resource Institute's (WRI) Forests Program, whose projects include the Global Forest Watch, the Forest Legality Alliance, and the Global Restoration Initiative. These programs work with governments, businesses, and civil society with the aim of sustaining forests for generations to come.
A new face for palm oil? How a small co-op is changing the industry in Honduras
(04/10/2014) Expanding oil palm plantations are among the top reasons for deforestation globally, along with cattle ranching, timber, and soy. However, a small palm oil production outfit recently became the first cooperative in the world to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification for sustainable growth of African palms, employing a number of innovations to ensure the prosperity of both forests and local communities.
Cargill commits to zero deforestation, but environmentalists have questions
(04/09/2014) After years of criticism from environmental groups, Cargill says it will establish policies to eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. But activists aren't yet sure what to make of the agribusiness giant's pledge. On Tuesday Cargill released a letter it sent to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets eco-certification standards, in response to a Greenpeace Report linking it to deforestation.
Emissions from rainforest logging average 16% of those from deforestation
(04/08/2014) Carbon emissions from selective logging operations in tropical rainforests are roughly a sixth of those from outright forest clearing, finds a new study that evaluated 13 forestry concessions in six countries. The study analyzed carbon losses from elements of logging operations, including timber extraction, collateral damage to surrounding vegetation, and logging infrastructure like roads and skid trails.
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