PS 96-189 - The root of the problem: A comprehensive literature review of what’s driving tropical deforestation today

Friday, August 12, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Calen C. May-Tobin1, Douglas H. Boucher2, Pipa Elias3, Katherine B. Lininger1, Sarah Roquemore4 and Earl Saxon1, (1)Tropical Forest and Climate Initative, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, DC, (2)Climate and Energy, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, DC, (3)Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, DC, (4)Tropical Forest and Climate Inititive, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, DC

Tropical forests are disappearing around the world.  This clearing causes around 15% of global carbon emissions, leads to the rapid loss of biodiversity, and destroys the livelihoods of many indigenous peoples. Understanding the factors that drive tropical deforestation today is essential in determining strategies to conserve forests and alleviate some of the worst effects of climate change. While deforestation was predominately driven by small farmers and government action in the 1970s and 1980s, since the 1990s there has been a major shift in the agents driving deforestation. What factors then drive tropical deforestation today?  To answer this question, we comprehensively reviewed the peer-reviewed literature on drivers of tropical deforestation to find what is driving tropical deforestation today. We focused on the agents most often associated with tropical deforestation: timber production, large scale agriculture (soy, cattle and palm oil), small scale and subsistence agriculture, and woodfuel production.  We also analyzed the effect that underlying trends in population and diet have on tropical deforestation. 


Most deforestation since the 1990s has been driven by large scale commercial agriculture. In Latin America, and Brazil in particular, forest clearing has mostly been due to expansion of cattle pastures and for a period in the late 1990s and early 2000s soy bean expansion.  In Southeast Asia, deforestation has mainly been due to expansion of oil palm plantations and timber harvesting.  In Africa small farmers and wood fuel collection still play a role, although deforestation rates are considerably lower there than in other regions. Additionally, increased urbanization and trends toward a diet based on meat, particularly beef, have tended to drive deforestation.

While deforestation continues, there are many ways that society is acting to end it. Brazil offers a particularly effective example of how public pressure and policies affect change.  In 2006, effective civil society pressure led to a moratorium of new soy production in Amazon forests, halting what had been a major driver of deforestation. Again in 2009, civic society groups forced the cattle industry to enact a moratorium on expansion of pasture in the Amazon.  Additionally, with the incentive of compensation for reducing emissions from a bilateral deal with Norway, Brazil has lowered its deforestation rate by 67% since 2005, through a variety of policies.

Copyright © . All rights reserved.
Banner photo by Flickr user greg westfall.