Agriculture drives more than 90% of tropical deforestation

News / 20 Sep 2022

A new study published in the leading journal, Science, has revealed that agriculture is by far the dominant driver of tropical deforestation.

The latest work into the drivers of deforestation is a collaboration between leading deforestation experts including Trase, our partner initiative with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). It finds that between 90 and 99 percent of all deforestation in the tropics is driven directly or indirectly by agriculture. That is significantly higher than previous figures which only found agriculture was behind around 80% of tropical deforestation.

Crucially, it also found that much of the forest is cleared for nothing as a third to half of deforestation driven by agriculture doesn’t ultimately produce commodities. Land is cleared for speculation, projects go unfinanced or abandoned, or forests fall prey to nearby fire.

The study makes clear that a handful of commodities are responsible for the majority of deforestation linked to actively producing agricultural land — well over half of which is linked to pasture, soy and palm oil alone. But it also warns of the limitations of sector-specific initiatives when it comes to indirect impacts.

“Sector specific initiatives to combat deforestation can be invaluable, and new measures to prohibit imports of commodities linked to deforestation in consumer markets, such as those under negotiation in the EU, UK and USA represent a major step forward from largely voluntary efforts to combat deforestation to date,” said Dr. Toby Gardner of the Stockholm Environment Institute and Director of the supply chain transparency initiative, Trase.

The study stresses that a step-change is urgently needed in efforts to effectively tackle and curb deforestation and conversion of other ecosystems. The Glasgow Declaration on Forests recognised the importance of jointly addressing the crises of climate and biodiversity loss and set a new level of ambition for tackling deforestation and promoting sustainable agriculture. The authors of this new study say it is paramount that we begin to see individual countries and policymakers prioritise the realisation of this ambition.

Read the World Economic Forum article written by the paper’s authors on the findings

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