Major Drivers of Deforestation and Degradation

Tropical deforestation is driven by a sophisticated combination of direct and indirect drivers of different nature (social, ecological, economic, environmental, biophysical), which interact with each other, often synergistically; the specific combinations of drivers vary within a region of the globe, by countries, and across localities within countries.

Direct drivers are basically human activities at the local level and can be broadly categorized into those related to agricultural expansion, wood extraction, and infrastructure extension. Agriculture expansion is the most important direct driver of deforestation in practically all tropical regions and includes shifting cultivation, permanent agriculture, pasture creation, and resettlement programs, following converting the forest to other land uses. Wood extraction includes commercial logging, fuel-wood harvesting, and charcoal production. A substantial negative effect is provided by illegal harvest: over 70 countries have problems with illegal logging that leads to dramatic ecological and economic losses. Commercial logging is an important direct driver in Asia and Latin America while fuelwood gathering is one of the most important drivers in Africa. Infrastructure extension includes construction of transport ways; development of new industrial enterprises; settlement expansion; and a variety of other activities (oil exploration and extraction, mining, construction ofhydropower stations, pipeline and electric grids). The construction or paving of roads in forested areas is among the principal causes of deforestation. For example, in the Brazilian Amazon, above 80% of deforestation occurs in a 100 km band along major roads. During recent decades, wildfires have been recognized as a new actor of deforestation and degradation in the Tropics, as a rule following land-use change and fragmentation of forest cover. Exceptional fires took place in east South Asia and the Amazon in 1997-98, provoked by the severe droughts due to the El Nino event. In Indonesia alone, these fires enveloped 2.4 million ha of forest and peatland. Other drivers can be important in different regions of the globe, such as insect damage, drainage or other forms of alteration of wetlands, permafrost destruction in high latitudes, etc.

Indirect drivers of deforestation are caused by fundamental social processes which are usually revealed as a sophisticated interplay of factors of different nature. Economic factors (e.g., rapid market growth and incorporation into the global economy, commercialization, urbanization and industrialization, growth of demand for forest-related consumer goods, poverty, etc.) are crucial across many tropical regions. Institutional factors (taxation, subsidies, corruption, property rights, etc.) are frequently tied to economic drivers. Cultural and sociopolitical factors like lack of public support for forest protection and sustainable use, low educational level, and low perception of public responsibilities also play a substantial role. Population growth, density, and spatial distribution are usually not a primary driver of deforestation: these are always combined with other factors. Nevertheless, in a number of studies, population density has been shown to be highly correlated with the determination of certain land-use patterns often connected to deforestation. Impacts of some of the above factors are often difficult to separate.

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