Scientists Propose Bribing Offending Countries to Help Quell Deforestation

Rich countries are contributing to deforestation outside their own borders in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the planet. Researchers dropped names, and proposed bribes.

The map shows the cumulative spatial deforestation footprint over 15 years, from 2001 to 2015. The pixel value is the percentage of embodied deforestation by the target consumer country within the pixel area. (Credit: Hoang and Kanemoto)

(CN) — Scientists claim globalized trade perversely incentivizes developing nations toward continued deforestation, despite numerous attempts at swaying them to protect these vital biomes.

While rich countries around the world cleared much of their own forests decades, even centuries ago, much of the world’s most important forest cover is now found in regions still pushing for their own industrialization.

These remaining forests are critically important to climate change mitigation efforts, and thus rich nations now face a dilemma — how to convince developing countries that they shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of Europe and North America and instead forgo much needed revenue to protect this crucial resource. That’s not an easy sell.

Researchers from the Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan describe this awkward problem and offer a possible solution in a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

On top of climate change concerns, between 50-90% of all species on land call tropical forests home. Many of these are already vulnerable, some are critically endangered, and every tree felled pushes them closer to the brink. Forests are also home to an array of pathogens thus far unencountered by humans, and the chances of just such an encounter rises with every acre cleared for palm oil, timber, mining or farming.

“Deforestation, a significant threat to biodiversity, is accelerated by global demand for commodities,” said the authors in their study. “Although prior literature has linked deforestation to global supply chains, here we provide a fine-scale representation of spatial patterns of deforestation associated with international trade.”

The authors used available data on the causes behind deforestation along with a detailed model of the global supply chain to create maps of deforestation taking place around the world over time. With these maps they were able to discern which nations are most responsible for driving deforestation. The United States took the cake, followed closely by China.

The United States is a major importer of timber from Cambodia, rubber from Liberia, fruits and nuts from Guatemala and soy and beef from Brazil, among others. Coffee imports by the United States and Europe are also contributing to deforestation in Vietnam. China, for its part, imports massive amounts of timber from North Vietnam, along with soy and beef from Brazil. According to the study, the United States and China share most of the external blame for Brazil’s ongoing deforestation crisis.

“Different tree types have different environmental and ecological roles. For example, the environmental impact of three Amazonian trees might be more severe than the impact of 14 trees in the boreal forests of Norway,” claim the authors in their study.

Over half of the world’s remaining tropical forests are located in the Amazon Basin, where the rate of deforestation has been increasing since 2013. A region known by many as “the lungs of the Earth,” the Amazon rainforest plays a major role in carbon sequestration, yet the Brazilian government recently loosened regulations to allow locals to plant crops and graze cattle there. Because the same wealthy countries decrying these practices cleared much of their own forests years ago, and continue to buy rainforest-derived products, it’s been especially difficult to convince Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that he shouldn’t take their money.

China, India and many developed countries actually increased their own forest cover in recent years. Unfortunately, these same countries’ imports have encouraged further deforestation elsewhere, merely shifting the problem to the tropical forests of South and Central America, Africa and Asia. Global forest cover as a whole has declined annually for the past 25 years. Since 2014, deforestation caused by China and India alone was more than six times higher than in 2001.

So, what’s the solution? Money. The authors believe richer nations should pay developing countries to not chop down their forests — rather than buying products that encourage them to do just that.

“Consumption patterns of G7 countries drive an average loss of 3.9 trees per person per year. Some of the hotspots of deforestation embodied in international trade are also biodiversity hotspots, such as in Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Liberia, Central America and the Amazonian rainforest,” warn the authors in their study. “Our results emphasize the need to reform zero-deforestation policies through strong transnational efforts and by improving supply chain transparency, public–private engagement and financial support for the tropics.”

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