The MEA Repository
Deforestation and the Unsustainable Use of Forests
    Current trends
  • More than one-fifth of the world's tropical forests have been cleared since 1960. Tropical deforestation increased from 11.8 million hectares per year in the 1970s to 15.4 million hectares (0.8 percent of total natural forest cover) in the I 980s. Current rates of tropical deforestation are typically averaging about 0.7 percent per year.
  • Continuing loss of old-growth habitat in many temperate and boreal forest ecosystems, with remaining semi-natural forest covering less than 0.8 percent of the original forest in Western Europe and 1-2 percent in the United States.
  • Serious loss of forest quality in many temperate and boreal forests due to pollution and other injurious agents; the associated productivity losses in Eastern Europe alone are estimated at US$30 billion per year.
  • Forest clearing and burning currently account for between 7 and 30 percent of annual atmospheric carbon emissions.

    Underlying causes of change

  • Population growth and increasing per capita demands for forest products are increasing pressures for forest exploitation and the conversion of forest lands to agriculture and other forms of development, such as mining and fossil fuel extraction.
  • Market failures that undervalue both the benefits of forest ecosystems and the true costs of damages associated with forest exploitation and conversion.
  • Policy failures that provide perverse incentives for forest degradation and destruction.
  • Institutional failures that lead to insecure resource access rights for forest-dependent communities, and a lack of trans- parency in forest resource pricing and allocation processes which, in turn, encourages corruption and the misuse of forest resources.

    Projected impact of human activities on forests

  • Decreased global forest cover.
  • Loss of soil fertility and increase in soil erosion from deforested areas.
  • Loss of significant carbon storage.

    Social and economic consequences of projected changes

  • Loss of substantial biodiversity, with forests currently accounting for more than 80 percent of terrestrial biodiversity.
  • Loss of environmental protection services for fragile sites and critical watersheds.
  • Potential changes in local, regional, and global climatic patterns.
  • Loss of resource access and sustainable income support for forest-dependent communities.
  • Rent capture by a small elite reduces the scope for equitable social development.

    Technologies, policies, and measures to reduce the loss of forests

  • Integrated land-use planning to secure a more stable forest area, with conservation, protection, and natural and planted production forests.
  • Community involvement in all aspects of forest management and planning.
  • Developing markets for a wider range of forest goods and services, including carbon storage and watershed protection services.
  • Low-impact harvesting technologies, less waste of harvested products, and experimentation with alternative fiber sources.
  • Independent, third-party certification of the sustainability of forest management systems, to encourage sales of these products.

    Status of international agreements

  • The International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) of l 983, renegotiated in l 994.
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Convention to Com- bat Desertification.

"Protecting Our Planet, Securing Our Future" UNEP / U.S. NASA / World Bank, 1997