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Developing nations are exporting deforestation, scientists warn ahead of Cancun

By David Hewitt - 24 Nov 2010 17:8:1 GMT
Developing nations exporting deforestation

Developing countries engaging in forest restoration projects are looking elsewhere for timber, prompting an increase in deforestation rates in other nations.

That is according to the findings of new research carried out by a multinational team of scientists, who fear that, while many developing nations may have launched high-profile and much-praised restoration schemes over recent years, looked at on a global scale, the problem of deforestation is as acute as ever.

The team of researchers, which was composed of members of Stanford University in California and Belgium's University of Louvain, looked into the possible relationship between domestic reforestation rates and international trade in timber and other agricultural products between the years of 1961 and 2007, focusing in particular on six developing countries in different parts of the world.

Significantly, in China, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Vietnam, the gradual movement towards ensuring the return of native forests was found to have been accompanied by falling domestic timber harvest, thereby fuelling stronger demand for imported timber and agricultural products.

Only in India was this not the case. Doing the sums, the team concluded that, for every one acre of reforested land in these developing countries, a half-acre of land was used elsewhere – for example in Brazil or Indonesia – in order to satisfy domestic demand for wood.

Commenting, study co-author, Stanford's Eric Lambin, warned that should forest protection measures merely shift localised forest-conversion pressures to elsewhere in the world, the global 'net gain' for forests will inevitably be placed in jeopardy, with all the consequences this entails.

However, on a more positive note, he added in the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "This study does not imply that the efforts of these countries to protect their forests was useless, but that international trade in wood and agricultural products can decrease the global environmental benefits of national forest-protection policies. The glass is half full, not just half empty."

Unfortunately, this is far from the only issue likely to trouble world leaders set to meet at the upcoming UN Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) summit, due to take place on December 5th in Cancun, Mexico. The run-up to the talks has also seen Greenpeace International claim that Indonesia is looking at claiming REDD funding for replacing large areas of its remaining natural forests with potentially-lucrative palm oil trees and biofuel crops.

According to the campaigning charity, as much as 37 million hectares of natural forest, including around 50 per cent of the country's remaining orangutan habitat, is being considered for such redeployment over the next 20 years, with the Jakarta government ready to class it as "degraded land" in order to be eligible for up to $1 billion worth of climate change funding.

As both these newly-published papers show, delegates at the Cancun talks will be tasked with not just ensuring nations commit to individual, domestic, reforestation targets, but to ensure that loopholes that allow for the exportation of deforestation or for natural forests to be replaced with palm oil plantations in the name of guarding against climate change are closed.

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Topics: Rainforest Articles