Deforestation for oil palm plantations in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Agriculture is the direct driver of roughly 80 percent of tropical deforestation, while logging is the biggest single driver of forest degradation, says a new report funded by the British and Norwegian governments.
The report, authored by Gabrielle Kissinger of Lexeme Consulting in Vancouver and Martin Herold and Veronique De Sy of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, presents an overview of drivers of deforestation to inform policymakers involved in developing the REDD+ mechanism, an international program that aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The data is based on sources ranging from published scientific papers to government reports to World Bank and U.N. analysis.
Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation notes that industrial activities are the principal driver of deforestation and degradation worldwide, but subsistence agriculture and fuelwood consumption remains an important direct driver of deforestation, especially in Africa. Drivers vary on a regional scale. For example, cattle ranching and large-scale agriculture are major drivers of deforestation in Latin America, whereas palm oil development, intensive agriculture, and pulp and paper plantations are principal drivers in Indonesia.
The report also looks at indirect drivers of deforestation, including commodity prices, population trends, corruption and poor governance, land tenure, consumption, and government policies.
“Our findings confirm that economic growth based on the export of primary commodities and an increasing demand for timber and agricultural products in a globalizing economy are critical indirect drivers,” the authors write.
While pressure on forests will continue as the world globalizes and consumption and human population grow, the report does see signs of hope for the planet’s forests.
“There are promising strategies to decouple economic growth from deforestation,” the report states. “National approaches — based on effective land-use planning, policies and incentives — allow for re-directing high opportunity cost activities to places with lower carbon values without sacrificing economic development. Addressing the underlying factors is crucial to determine whether direct driver interventions will succeed in achieving the emissions reductions intended.”
Nevertheless, challenges remain. Different scales of deforestation drivers means that interventions must also operate across various scales. Solutions will also need to overcome poor governance and underdeveloped institutions in some countries, as well as historical lack of transparency around land use and powerful interests keen to maintain business-as-usual approaches to forest management.
The upside however is substantial. Cutting deforestation and degradation could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of millions of tons per year, while safeguarding biodiversity and maintaining critical ecosystem services. Efforts to improve forest management could have other beneficial impacts, like improving governance, boosting productivity, strengthening land rights, and reducing corruption.
CITATION: Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation; Gabrielle Kissinger, Principal, Lexeme Consulting, Vancouver, Canada, Martin Herold and Veronique De Sy of Wageningen University, The Netherlands.