Deforestation

THERE ARE vARIOuS definitions of deforestation. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines deforestation as:

A non-temporary change of land use from forest to other land use or depletion of forest crown cover to less than 10 percent. Clear cuts (even with stump removal) if shortly followed by reforestation for forestry purposes are not considered deforestation.

According to the FAO there were 3,952 million ha. of forestland in the world in 2005. The most forested countries in the world are the Russian Federation, with 808.79 million hectares (ha), followed by Brazil with 477.70 million ha, and Canada with 310.13 million

Deforestation caused by agriculture, logging, fuelwood use, and cattle ranching releases approximately 1.7 Pg of carbon a year.

ha. According to the FAO, deforestation occurred at a rate of 8.87 million ha (-0.22 percent) a year 19902000, and 7.32 million ha (-0.18) a year 2000-05. The country with the highest deforestation rate is Brazil, with 2.68 million ha a year 1990-2000, accelerating to 3.1 million ha a year 2001-05. The second is Indonesia, with 1.87 million ha deforestation a year 19902005. The country with the largest gain in forest area is China, with 1.99 million ha a year 1990-2000, and 4.06 million ha a year 2001-05.

The Rainforest Alliance has estimated that, globally, the main causes of tropical deforestation are land clearing for agriculture (64 percent), logging (18 percent), fuelwood collection (10 percent), and cattle ranching (8 percent). However, the amounts vary geographically and temporally. Fuelwood collection is particularly destructive in dry lands or high altitudes because of slow natural regeneration rates, while cattle ranching is estimated to cause up to 60 percent of the forestland clearance in Central and South America. The exact proportions of each cause of deforestation are also difficult to estimate because land might be used for multiple purposes. While forests might be cut for the logs, the land can then be used for agriculture or cattle ranching.

According to H.J. Geist and E.F. Lambin, the underlying causes of deforestation include: the unequal access to land by the rural poor; the high debt of many developing countries; unsustainable farming practices, especially in tropical countries; unsustainable land ten-ureship rules that give ownership of land to those who clear it; and the demand for cheap beef for the fast food industry, which in Central and South America generates demand for both cattle ranching and soybean production to feed cattle in North America and Europe.

The consequences of deforestation are global and local: including atmospheric pollution, release of CO2, climate change, disruption of the hydrological cycle, disappearance of wildlife, soil erosions, and landslides. Deforestation, mainly in the tropics, is estimated to release approximately 1.7 petagrams (Pg) of carbon (C) per year (one Pg is one thousand million metric tons). With a small amount of uptake (about 0.1 Pg C) in temperate and boreal areas, deforestation releases around 1.6 Pg of carbon per year. This can be compared to the carbon released by burning fossil fuel, which is currently at about 7 Pg C per year.

While tropical deforestation is an important source of atmospheric CO2, the Kyoto Protocol only gives carbon credits for the CO2 that is sequestered by forest plantations, not for the CO2 that is retained by natural forests. A post-Kyoto protocol is expected to address this problem by giving credits for the carbon retained by natural forests, so as to increase the economic costs of deforestation, according to R. Sedjo.

SEE ALSO: Brazil; China; Forests; Indonesia; Kyoto Mechanisms; Kyoto Protocol.

bibliography. H.J. Geist and E.F. Lambin, "Proximate Causes and Underlying Driving Forces of Tropical Deforestation" Bioscience (v.52/2, 2002); Rainforest Alliance, www .rainforestalliance.com (cited October 2007); R. Sedjo, "Forest and Biological Carbon Sinks after Kyoto" Resources (Summer 2006); UN Food and Agriculture Organization, www.fao.org (cited October 2007).

Claudio O. Delang Chinese University of Hong Kong

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