Forests Face Different Threats From Multiple Industries Other Than Agriculture

Intact forests are critical climate regulators and biodiversity hotspots, but they are rapidly disappearing.

Agriculture is widely regarded as the primary cause of forest loss, but the authors of a new study show that agriculture is not solely to blame.

Over 60% of forest loss associated with the 2014 global economy was due to final consumption of non-agricultural products such as minerals, metals, and wood-related goods, according to the authors, who argue that we must consider international trade markets when designing conservation strategies.

Forests face fierce threats from multiple industries

(Photo : Luca Bravo/Unsplash)

“Regional land use change is no longer solely driven by local demand; it is also influenced indirectly by international markets and rising consumption of land-based products,” write the authors, who were led by Bin Chen, a postdoctoral fellow at Fudan University.

Countries with forest conservation goals can import finished land-based products through global supply chains, displacing land-use pressure and associated eco-environmental impacts beyond their own territorial borders.

The researchers assessed the direct and indirect causes of intact forest landscape loss using multi-source geographic information data and economic modeling.

In Africa and South America, intact forests support more diverse species, are more resilient to natural disturbances such as wildfires, and can store more than three times the amount of carbon per hectare than disturbed or managed forests.

Previous studies focused on deforestation (the complete removal of tree cover), but focusing on intact forests allowed the authors to shine a light on the insidious roles played by degradation and fragmentation.

Even the removal of narrow tracts of forest can have an impact on overall forest structure and composition.

Given the extraordinary conservation value of intact forest landscapes in terms of trying to stabilize land-based carbon stocks and harboring biodiversity, undamaged forest landscape loss displacement can also reflect possible indirect motives behind carbon emissions and biodiversity loss.

It is widely assumed that beef production drives deforestation in the Amazon, but consumers may be unaware that the production of highly processed equipment may involve timber and metals produced at the expense of intact forest, and that tertiary sector services may be supported by electricity generated from oil and gas associated with this loss.

Because intact forest loss drivers are more dispersed and have indirect links to individual final consumers, stronger government engagement and supply-chain interventions are required.

Read more: Boreal Forests and Climate: 3 Trillion Trees in World

Industries and sectors driving deforestation

Globally, the loss of tropical forests has accelerated. The commercial production of four commodities: cattle, soy, palm oil, and timber, is largely driving this.

Cattle ranching for beef, leather, gelatine, and tallow is the leading cause of deforestation in Latin America, and deforestation for cattle ranching alone accounts for 340 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, accounting for about 3.4% of global annual emissions.

Soy production is another major cause of deforestation in Latin America. This soy is used in personal care and medical products, as well as fuel, food, and, most importantly, animal feed.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the African oil palm tree’s fruit. It is found in a variety of food, personal care, and household products, as well as in the production of biofuel.

Palm oil production is linked to deforestation and climate change, as well as other issues like habitat degradation, animal cruelty, and indigenous rights violations.

Palm oil production is the leading cause of deforestation in Southeast Asia and other tropical regions, according to a recent study.

Palm oil was found to be responsible for more than 14% of forest loss between 2005 and 2015.

Timber production is another major cause of deforestation and forest degradation around the world, and it is used for a variety of products ranging from construction and furniture to paper and fabric goods.

Related article: Tree Survival Strategy: New Study Sheds Light on How Forest Ecosystems Survive Damaging Winds

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