Commercial agriculture is the most important direct driver of deforestation worldwide. However, underlying causes such as increasing economic and population growth as well as meat consumption, are likely to continue in the future.
This is the conclusion from a report recently published in Bangkok at the current climate change negotiations, by researchers from Canada and from Wageningen UR, for the UK and Norwegian governments. The report stresses the importance to know what drives deforestation and forest degradation, in order to be able to design and monitor effective REDD+ policies to put a halt to it.
The report sums up currently available knowledge from the literature, on the different drivers (worldwide and per country); and provides recommendations to policy makers involved in the on-going international climate negotiations, as well as country-level plans and interventions. The report concludes that the viability of REDD+ depends on altering business-as-usual activities in sectors currently driving greenhouse gas emissions from forests. It distinguishes between ‘direct drivers’ that directly cause deforestation and forest degradation; and ‘indirect drivers’, or influential factors in the background, such as changing market prices, population growth or policies and governance.
Agriculture is estimated to be the direct driver for around 80% of deforestation worldwide. In Latin America, commercial agriculture is the main direct driver, responsible for 2/3 of all cut forests; while in Africa and tropical Asia, commercial and subsistence agriculture both account for one-third of deforestation. Mining, infrastructure and urban expansion are important but less prominent drivers worldwide. Economic growth based on the export of primary commodities and an increasing demand for timber and agricultural products in a globalizing economy are concluded to be critical indirect drivers.
Degradation of forest means a decrease in quality of forest, and is in over 70% of cases caused by (commercial) timber extraction and logging activities in Latin America and (sub)tropical Asia. In Africa, fuelwood collection, charcoal production, and, to a lesser extent, livestock grazing in forests are the most important drivers of degradation.
The report concludes that it is important for forested tropical countries to regularly assess and monitor drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, in order to be able to design effective REDD+ policies. The types of drivers have great influence on forest carbon levels, and the choice of data sources and methods used to measure them. Understanding forest change patterns and underlying causes are also important for developing forest reference (emissions) levels, necessary for REDD+ implementation.