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Agriculture, Lumber Industries Drive Deforestation

Oct 22, 2014 06:13 PM EDT
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International agriculture and lumber industries are main drivers of tropical deforestation, according to a new study.
(Photo : Flickr/CIAT)

International agriculture and lumber industries are main drivers of tropical deforestation, according to a new study. More than a third of recent deforestation can be tied to production of beef, soy, palm oil and timber alone.

"The trend is clear, the drivers of deforestation have been globalized and commercialized," assistant professor Martin Persson, of Chalmers University of Technology, said in a statement.

It started out that just smallholders and local markets were causing deforestation - at least in the seven case countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea - but now new research shows that this problem has escalated to a global scale, tied to large agricultural production for international markets.

"If we exclude Brazilian beef production, which is mainly destined for domestic markets, more than half of deforestation in our case countries is driven by international demand," Persson added.

The Amazon in Brazil, the poster child of deforestation, has seen the limb-cutting act increase 29 percent last year, according to a recent report. Though, efforts to slow deforestation recently got a major boost when dozens of countries, indigenous groups and companies pledged to halve destructive deforestation by 2020, and completely end losses by 2030.

Such drastic measures would effectively save between 4.5 billion and 8.8 billion tons of carbon emissions per year by 2030.

(Photo : Flickr: Wagner T. Cassimiro)

This is significant considering that in total 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions can be linked to the production of the aforementioned products, such as beef, soy and palm oil. And these commodities aren't even mostly benefitting those who live in the regions where trees are being cut down to make room for these very products. China and the European Union are their biggest recipients.

It is no longer enough to just focus on the countries where deforestation happens and the potential policy measures available there, according to Persson.

"Today both public and private consumers, be it individuals or corporations, have the possibility to contribute to the protection of tropical forests by holding suppliers accountable for the environmental impacts of their production," he said.

In fact, some companies have already started to make changes. Unilever and McDonalds, for example, are attempting to separate themselves from the deforestation problem by "pressuring their suppliers to stop expanding production on forest land."

The report can be accessed online here.

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