Global Deforestation Slowing, but Much More Needs to Be Done

This post was co-authored by Director of Tropical Forest Policy Steve Schwartzman and International Climate Change Policy Analyst Gus Silva-Chavez.


Deforestation accounts for about 15 percent of the man-man carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. (Photo: A.S. Zain/Shutterstock)

The latest global deforestation estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that deforestation rates slowed from 2000 – 2010 relative to the 1990s. The UN News Centre says:

Between 2000 and 2010, some 13 million hectares of forests were converted annually to other uses, such as agriculture, or lost through natural causes, down from 16 million hectares per year during the 1990s, according to the assessment which surveyed 233 countries and areas.

This is welcome news, and is in part due to Brazil’s major efforts to slow its slash and burn juggernaut.  But deforestation still puts more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere than the global transportation sector.  Much more needs to be done to get a handle on the problem.

Brazil is a good example of how to do that; deforestation is way down from the 2004 peak, and the country now has a national economy-wide emissions reductions target (including an 80% reduction in Amazon deforestation by 2020) that is federal law.  Brazil has become a world leader on climate change.  Federal and state governments are cracking down on the lawless frontier, and companies are increasingly unwilling to buy beef and soy from newly cleared lands.

But the large-scale positive incentives to reward forest conservation and sustainable land uses are not yet in place.  For this trend to last when commodity prices go up (as they inevitably will), we need a price signal from the carbon market to make living forests worth as much or more than dead ones: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

The U.S. Senate continues to put together the pieces of its climate bill, and just this week a group of environmental, industry, agricultural and forestry groups called for offsets and REDD to be included in the Senate package.

At the UN level, negotiations on REDD will continue this year.  The efforts at the international and U.S. level are exactly the types of strong signals that are vital to ensuring that the declining trend for deforestation continues.  EDF believes that if REDD is made a reality and successfully implemented, the signal for forest protection will lead to lower and lower emissions in coming years.

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