Forest Trends, a Washington-based NGO, has released a new analysis that says 49 percent of tropical deforestation is due to illegal clearing for commercial agriculture.
According to the analysis, commercial cultivation between 2000 and 2012 is the root of 71 percent of all tropical deforestation. Nearly half of this deforestation was carried out in contravention of the written laws, policies and regulations of the countries studied.
Sam Lawson, the report’s lead author, says international markets are driving this relentless destruction. The goods harvested from tropical plantations – palm oil, beef, leather, soy, paper and timber – are all in high demand in the EU, U.S., China, India and Russia. “Consumer countries have a responsibility to help halt this trade,” he said.
The global market for these products is worth an estimated $61 billion per year. Unfortunately, that profit comes with a hefty environmental price. The destruction of so many trees releases an annual 1.47 gigatonnes of stored carbon – or 25 percent of Europe’s yearly fossil fuel emissions.
In the last decade, 200,000 square kilometers of tropical forest was destroyed (picture five football fields of forest disappearing every 60 seconds), and much of it due to fraudulent clearing licenses or outright criminality. It is estimated that 80 percent of deforestation in Indonesia is illegal, and less than 10 percent of clearing licenses granted in Papua New Guinea were issued legitimately.
Since 2004, Brazil has led its fellow countries in reducing its deforestation by implementing stricter policies on its clearing and agricultural practices. Before that point, up to 90 percent of agricultural deforestation in the country was illegal.
“We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, the president and CEO of Forest Trends.
“Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably.”
The full report, Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations, can be downloaded here.
A 14-page executive summary of the report is available here.