Deforestation is the process whereby natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning, either to use the timber or to replace the area for alternative uses such as agriculture or urbanisation. The FAO estimates 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute.
TIP: if you’re in a hurry, you find a summarizing infographic at the end of this post
The impacts of deforestation
The effects of deforestation are vast. Obviously, it leads to a decline in biodiversity. Around two-thirds of all species on Earth live in rainforests. Scientists only studied one percent of those 6 million creatures and many will be lost before we can even discover them.
Deforestation leads to around 25% of world’s carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To make things worse, the lost forest can no longer absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Nor can they generate oxygen. Knowing that rainforests alone provide around one-fifth of the planet’s oxygen, deforestation deprives us of our main lifeline.
Forests are an important link in water cycles. They protect the soil from drying out and evaporate water that keeps the water cycle balanced. This has a global impact. For example, the evaporation in the vast forest in Congo affect the rains in America’s Midwest.
Scale of the problem
Despite what many people think, deforestation is still a big issue. In recent years, the Philippines have become a major source of trouble. Forest is cleared on a massive scale to make place for palm and rubber trees.
Deforestation is a complex issue since the clearance of the forest gives local communities a source of income. Yet, it is not sustainable on the long run because after some years, the soil is depleted, dries out and is not usable anymore or leads to serious yield reduction.
Around 1.6 billion people depend on the rainforests for their livelihoods directly. To tackle deforestation, we need governments with holistic and transparent policies. Inspection is key, because often companies try to get around the regulations.
Possible solution: ecosystem service payment
A recent study conducted in Uganda seems to have found at least a partial solution to the problem. How? Simple: pay the owner not to cut down the trees on the land they own. In the study, forest owners from some 60 villages were paid 28 $ per year per hectare if they would not chop down the trees. Via satellite images, the researchers followed the deforestation over two years. It turned out that forest cover decrease was reduced by more than 50%. The system works!
This kind of “Ecosystem Service” payment offers a relatively cheap way to combat climate change. Instead of building expensive CO2 capture devices in developed countries, the money can be used to incentivise forest owners in poor countries like Uganda to save their trees. Due to the huge welfare difference, 28 $ is peanuts for the rich country, while it is quite a lot for someone in the poor country. Or how welfare inequality can have a benefit, kinda.