Environmental Progress: Halting Deforestation

The world’s forests are an invaluable resource. This has been understood for a long time; however, halting deforestation has been a difficult challenge over the decades.

Roadblocks to success have come from conflicting interests. Specifically, the demand to expand agricultural lands to support activities such as palm oil production in Indonesia, cattle grazing and soybean production in Brazil, global paper production, and unsustainable exotic timber harvest for emerging global markets such as Africa.

When managed in a sustainable manner, these spaces can bring economic and environmental value to all. Some of the more obvious benefits include:

  • Water quality is improved through better soil retention. Nutrient rich soils help to filter the water naturally.
  • Forests provide a mechanism to pull carbon pollution from the air. I single mature tree can pull between 10 and 50 pounds of carbon from the air annually.
  • Forests provide a habitat to wildlife and ensure a healthy balance of biodiversity.
  • When properly managed, forests provide a renewable source of lumber production.
  • Forests may be the most significant combatant in the fight against climate change.

Global Impact of Deforestation

Nearly 30 million acres of forest are lost every year to deforestation. Each acre is capable of absorbing 30,000 pounds of CO2. This means the world loses the ability to remove 450,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air every year.

Additionally, many indigenous people are reliant on the planet’s rain forests to support their subsistence living. As those resources are lost, the people are often forced to migrate to farm work in order to survive.

How Do We Halt Deforestation?

This is a story with a silver lining. Nations are beginning to take more assertive actions in efforts to halt deforestation and to reverse the damage. Much of the world is looking to Brazil and their success as a roadmap for how to tackle this challenge.

Brazilian Case Study in Halting Deforestation:

Partnering nations developed what has been called REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation). This strategic program has been designed such that wealthy nations subsidize losses to developing nations in direct efforts to halt deforestation.

Brazil was an early adopter of the program and set out to turn back the clock on deforestation. A 15-year objective was established by the Brazilians in which they intended to reduce deforestation levels by 80% compared to baseline years. They achieved the objective in just 5-years!

Brazil was able to achieve these results through a collection of strategic initiatives. The target efforts included:

  • Expand previously protected lands.
  • Create a new network of protected land.
  • Turn control of land certain land over to indigenous people.
  • Improve anti-logging laws and strengthen enforcement of those laws.
  • Clean-up government corruption that enabled illegal logging activities.

Indonesian Case Study in Halting Deforestation:

Progress in the island nation of Indonesia has not been as effective as Brazil. Indonesia is comprised of thousands of smaller islands which has made conservation problematic. Palm oil demand continues to surge. As demand continues to grow, so does the need for more land to support its production.

Indonesia has made efforts to limit the expansion of illegal deforestation activity; however corruption paired with geography has made enforcement difficult.  Some of the actions that Indonesia has launched to halt deforestation include:

  • Halt the issuance of new licenses to clear primary forest land.
  • Collaborate with corporations to attain support for sustainable agricultural practices.

Progress has clearly been limited. Indonesia continues to work towards establishing a sustainable program for forest management. There are currently many programs in development with some just starting to roll out that will deal with halting deforestation in much the same ways that Brazil did.

Halting Deforestation – Are We There?

Humanity may be approaching the proverbial crossroad when it comes to halting deforestation.  For decades we have destroyed these vast resources with little regard for the long term consequences. New generations of conservationists however are working with governments, non-government organizations, and the private sector to secure land for future generations.

Vast reaching strategic programs are being deployed in critical regions such as the Amazon, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar. While not all the programs are having the same affect; several successful blue prints have been created to achieve this global goal.

Finally, more and more sustainable innovations are being pushed into the market. Some innovations find alternatives to wood for their manufacture such as tree-free paper. Other solutions include products constructed from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood – this ensures the wood comes from a sustainable source.

So are we there yet when it comes to halting deforestation? No, we’re not; however, progress is being made and will continue.