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The global trends changing the future of deforestation
The world is in the grip of huge changes that will redefine pressures on forests. ILRI/Stevie Mann

The global trends changing the future of deforestation

By Center for International Forestry Research
At a glance :
  • Urbanisation, increasingly meat-based diets, population growth, and booming demand for timber and agricultural products are influencing forest clearing
  • Historical patterns of the drivers of deforestation will not necessarily be repeated in the future
  • Countries must look beyond the forest sector in designing interventions to change driver pressures

Global trends will intensify the underlying causes of deforestation over the coming decades – unless all countries take responsibility to address them, experts say.

The world is in the grip of huge changes that will redefine pressures on forests: urbanisation, increasingly meat-based diets, population growth, and booming demand for timber and agricultural products.

“All of these forces conspire together to influence forest clearing, ” said Gabrielle Kissinger from Lexeme Consulting.

Kissinger is one of the authors of a synthesis report on the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation that aims to advise policymakers on REDD+ – a global scheme that aims to reduce carbon emissions by preventing forest loss.

While agriculture, timber logging, fuelwood and charcoal production, and mining are some of the main direct causes of deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics, scientists have also identified underlying or indirect drivers of deforestation.

These are fostered by complex interactions of fundamental social, economic, political, demographic, cultural and technological processes that drive forest clearing – often on the other side of the world.

The next 20 years are not going to be like the last 20 years…we will see greater pressures from the international trade of commodities, particularly agricultural products destined for urban markets.
Gabrielle Kissinger
Lexeme Consulting

Kissinger says this means that historical patterns of the drivers of deforestation will not necessarily be repeated in the future.

“The next 20 years are not going to be like the last 20 years,” she said.

“While historical patterns of deforestation give us one picture of driver trends, in most parts of the world, that picture will change in the future.

“We will see greater pressures from the international trade of commodities, particularly agricultural products destined for urban markets, increasingly in the developing world.”

Emerging economies and developing countries will see the largest economic growth in the future, while growth in developed economies plateaus.

“So this means demand for natural resources – agricultural products, wood, minerals, biofuels – will occur on a scale different than we have seen in the past, with demand coming from different markets than those dominant in the past,” Kissinger said.

As part of their report, Kissinger and colleagues surveyed REDD+ plans in 31 countries.

Around half named population growth as a key underlying driver of deforestation.

The global population will reach 8.2 billion people by 2030, with 235 million extra people in Africa by that year. That, combined with rising incomes, means that global demand for food products is expected to increase by 70 percent by 2050.

“Nearly all that additional food is expected to be consumed by developing countries, based on population and living standard increases, and developing countries will bear the brunt of pressure to serve those emerging markets,” Kissinger said.

Meat production in particular – responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution as well as deforestation – is expected to soar, with demand increasing by 85 percent over the next 30 years.

Oil palm production is tipped to rise by 45 percent over the coming decade, and oil seeds by 23 percent. Developing countries, particularly in Asia, are driving most of the increased demand for vegetable oil.

So what can be done?

“Countries must look beyond the forest sector in designing interventions to change driver pressures,” says Kissinger.

So far, the study shows, most countries have had difficulty doing this – but as Kissinger points out, addressing drivers linked to international demand is not easily achieved by one country alone.

“For REDD+ to be successful, incentives, disincentives and enabling measures will need to reach the actors responsible for addressing the drivers of deforestation. REDD+ offers countries a lever to prepare now for these future driver pressures, and to move towards meaningful cross-sectoral coordination.”

“In addition, increased urbanisation in the future reinforces the trend of deforestation increasingly being driven by global commodity markets, and not by local populations.

“So this means REDD+ countries must find ways of decoupling economic growth from deforestation,” she said.

No Questions Asked

Megan Dickie from the Environmental Investigation Agency said all countries need to take responsibility for their role in fuelling the indirect drivers of deforestation.

“The consumption needs of developed economies and rapidly developing economies are increasingly driving deforestation – and the scales are enormous,” she said.

“For instance, the timber market alone is worth over US$220 billion annually, and demand for export-led agricultural products is soaring.”

“Too often, demand comes from international markets that are ‘no-questions asked.’ The real impact of these products, and their sustainability or illegality is ignored.”

She says this means that action to reduce the drivers of deforestation should not be limited to tropical forested countries.

SBSTA [the technical and scientific body that provides advice to the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties] should explore ways that all countries can account for and act to address their specific role in driving deforestation and forest degradation.

“We need to encourage more government leadership and collaboration with private sectors to help guide markets towards greater supply chain sustainability,” Dickie said. 

This story was first published on Forests News: A blog by the Center for International Forestry Research

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