What solution for deforestation?

One of the primary causes of global environmental change is tropical deforestation. I was shocked when I saw pictures of our Earth from satellites where there was a huge difference between the area of forests 20 years ago, and now. That is the reason why I have chosen this topic.

Deforestation often results in a loss of biodiversity and decrease of the quality of land. According to National Geographic, each year we lose forests of the same area as Panama. And at the current rate of deforestation, the rain forests could completely disappear in hundred years.

Forests are cut down for many reasons, most of them are related to money or people´ s needs. The most common reason is agriculture. Farmers cut forests to have more space for planting crops so they can feed their families. Next big reason is logging operations, that provide us the wood and paper products.

As I said before, deforestation has a huge negative effect on environment. The biggest one is a loss of habitat for millions of species. Many of them can not survive the deforestation and as they are losing their natural environment, they are becoming extinct. Also, forests play a very important role in decreasing climate change, because they act as a carbon sink. That means they soak up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be in our atmosphere and contribute to climate change. It is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions are also the result of deforestation.

So how can we solve the problem with deforestation? The quickest solution would be simply stop cutting down trees. But let´ s be realistic: that is not going to happen.  A more workable solution is to eliminate reasons why forests are cut. But as in every country these reasons are different, these solutions need to be implemented country by country, according to their deforestation problems.

I have chosen three countries that are seriously damaged with deforestation: Brazil, Indonesia and Congo. In each of them, reasons for deforestation are different and that means that the solutions are also different.

In Brazil, the main reason for deforestation was agriculture. Farmers cut down trees to produce crops for their families and local consumption. But by the 2000s more than three-quarters of forest clearing was for cattle – ranching. This is not an environmental investment though. Cattle emits large amounts of methane into the environment. These emissions play a major role in climate change. There the solution could be switching from beef to an alternative, for example chicken. According to National Geographic, they require 20 % of the land and 10 % of the greenhouse gas emissions. So cutting the amount of beef in half or by quarter could make a significant difference.

Removal of the Amazonian forests would have a huge impact on species diversity and atmospheric chemistry. The Amazon rainforest is a home for roughly half of the world ´ s species and it is also an important natural sink for ozone and plays an important role in global atmospheric chemistry.

Brazil made a huge progress, as since 2004, annual forest loss in the country has declined by 70 %. The drop has been fuelled by many factors, including increased law enforcement, satellite monitoring, pressure from environmentalists, private and public sector initiatives, new protected areas, and macroeconomic trends. But still, the brazil government must do even more steps to stop huge deforestation of rainforest as it is the biggest rainforest in the world.

Indonesia has also a big problem with deforestation. In 90s the leading cause of deforestation has been commercial logging. But now, trees are cut down mainly for palm oil plantation and paper. What is typical for Indonesia is forest fires. At the root of the problem there is the practice of forest clearance known as slash and burn where land is set on fire as a cheaper way to clear it for new planting That is also the reason why Indonesia is one of the world’ s largest emitters of climate changing greenhouse gases.

The biggest problem is palm oil plantations. Oil palm is one of the world´ s most rapidly increasing crops (used for cooking, cosmetics and biofuel) and the expansion of palm oil plantations causes deforestation. Indonesia is a home to many of all known species and some species (such as orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger) are threatened with extinction. That´s why it is necessary to do something and stop this deforestation, otherwise they lose their natural environment and become extinct.

The simplest solution would be boycotting palm oil. It would reduce the demand so the companies behind the plantations would have no need for further deforestation. But it may not help, as reduced demand could force the companies to instead initiate more intensive timber. It is up to the countries involved in palm oil production to regulate the industry. But with huge profits coming in from the sale of palm oil, public officials are not likely to take this decision.

In Congo, deforestation is significantly lower than in other tropical countries. However, there is a concern, that this rate is likely to increase. The main driver of deforestation in Congo is logging and agriculture. Logging can be considered as the biggest driver of deforestation. The timber industry is a mayor employer in Congo and illegal logging is also a big problem that is very difficult to solve, as underpaid bureaucrats look to supplement their incomes by opening restricted areas to cutting. The deforestation is also caused by the increase in demand for land from local farmers. The slash and burn method is commonly used here and that causes global warming too.  The solution is not very easy as Congo is a developing country. That is why the mechanism REDD+ was adopted. The program of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries has a simple idea: richer countries pay poorer ones to protect their tropical rainforests. The aim is for example to provide electricity over certain territories and to extend the usage of ameliorated ovens so they do not need so much fuelwood. But it is a plan for a longer time and it would be good to do something that could have immediate impact in decreasing deforestation in Congo.

The deforestation is a big problem recently that is connected to climate change. We need to stop cutting down trees to preserve the home for many species and to stop global warming. I know we cannot just stop doing his without having any alternative, but to every driver of deforestation, there can be and there is a solution. The governments just need to do their part, like stopping the corruption, and when it comes to logging or palm oil plantations, they must negotiate with corporations that are doing this. Because corporations have also the ability to save our forests.

Our forests are nor lost yet. We just need to do right decisions to preserve them.

Lucia Poláková

Sources:

  1. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_destruction.htmlhttps://www.researchgate.net/profile/Alexandra_Morel/publication/23241563_How_will_oil_palm_expansion_affect_biodiversity_Trends_Ecol_Evol/links/02bfe5114f1a0c7175000000.pdf
  2. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6059
  3. https://www.weadapt.org/knowledge-base/forests-and-climate-change/the-congo-basin-forests-a-solution-for-both-adaptation-and-mitigation
  4. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/congo/deforestation.html
  5. http://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/saving-trees-in-the-congo-basin-is-redd-a-solution-or-a-quagmire/
  6. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/
  7. http://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html
  8. https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/how-brazil-has-dramatically-reduced-tropical-deforestation/
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