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Global trade is key driver of deforestation

Destroyed tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, Brazil Destroyed tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, Brazil Shutterstock
18 Nov
The ever-growing international trade in beef, soy, palm oil and wood products has been found as one of the key drivers of worldwide deforestation

The think-tank Center for Global Development (CGD) has commissioned a report to study deforestation in seven countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea – and to analyse how much of that could be attributed to global trade and consumption of key products.

‘From having been caused mainly by smallholders and production for local markets, an increasing share of deforestation today is driven by large-scale agricultural production for international markets,’ says Martin Persson, assistant professor at Physical Resource Theory, Chalmers University of Technology, one of the authors behind the report.

‘More than a third of global deforestation can be tied to rising production of beef, soy, palm oil and wood products,’ he continues. ‘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.’

The findings include the 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions transferred overseas by the globalised markets of these key products. As a result, some campaigners are now starting to look away from the countries where deforestation is taking place, instead concentrating on the developed countries – and the multinational corporations stemming from them – to address the demand side of the supply-and-demand processes keeping deforestation as a profitable enterprise.

‘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,’ adds Persson.

deforestation-mapGlobal trades of key products driving deforestation. Image courtesy of the Centre for Global Development

The report comes as Brazilian NGO Imazon, which works to support sustainable development in the Amazon rainforest, has revealed that deforestation in Brazil escalated by over 450 per cent in October 2014, compared to the previous year.

The group’s Deforestation Alert System found that clearcutting in Brazil’s nine Amazon basin states hit 244 sq km (94 sq miles) over the month, compared to just 43 sq km (17 sq miles) in October 2013. About 60 per cent of deforestation took place on privately owned land or on land that is occupied by squatter-farmers, the group said.

Geographical will be taking an in-depth look at the state of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in our January 2015 issue. Click here to subscribe to our print and digital editions.

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