'The biggest driver of tropical deforestation is industrial agriculture'

Wealthy countries should provide adequate funding for tropical countries that conserve forests, says environmental economist Jonah Busch 

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Thursday 27 August 2015

Preventing deforestation is cheap and easy relative to other climate policies, says Busch
Credit: Roxanne Ready/Flickr

Tropical forests equal to the size of India will be destroyed over the next three decades, a new study by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a US non-profit, warns.

In an interview with Down To Earth, Jonah Busch, an environmental economist and research fellow at CGD talks about the threat of deforestation and its negative impact on climate.

Your focus is on the loss of tropical forests. Are mangroves and temperate forests not under disappearance threat?

Those ecosystems are important too. Our study focused on tropical forests because (these) are being deforested rapidly. They release a lot of carbon (in) the atmosphere when they are burned and cleared. (The) annual greenhouse gas emissions from tropical deforestation are on par with emissions from the European Union. 

There is more stress on environmental degradation due to loss of forest cover? What about the economic factor as many people, especially in India, depend on forest produce directly or indirectly?

Forests benefit people in so many ways—they clean water, prevent landslides, and provide cool, moist air that’s good for farmers downwind. (see paper)

What are the reasons behind rapid deforestation? Are timber companies solely to blame?

Far and away, the biggest driver of tropical deforestation is industrial agriculture—palm oil, beef, and soy, in addition to wood. (see paper)

You have said that changes in carbon policy pricing will slower down the rate of deforestation. How is it possible?

Carbon pricing is a policy (that) governments can use to slow (down) climate change. It can either be a tax that makes polluting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere more expensive or a payment that makes avoiding pollution more lucrative. (see video

Is there any need for a global forest conservation policy?

At the climate conference in Paris this December, wealthy countries should provide adequate funding for tropical countries that conserve forests.

For example, India now promotes forest conservation and reforestation through the recent  tax-revenue devolution reform. (see blog)

What factors will fuel the clearance of 289 million hectares of forests between 2016 and 2050? Is it possible to prevent it?

The bad news is that without new forest conservation policies, we expect the Earth to lose an area of tropical forest the size of India by 2050. The good news is that preventing deforestation is cheap and easy relative to other climate policies.

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