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Tropical deforestation is increasing global greenhouse gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from tropical deforestation. Because of the role that forests play in regulating climate, sustaining livelihoods, and supporting biodiversity, increasing deforestation in the tropics is a critical issue. Ten thousand years ago, forests covered about half of earth’s land. Roughly a third of these forests have since disappeared, converted for agriculture and other uses. Most forests still standing are degraded or fragmented; less than 20% are intact. Deforestation is concentrated in tropical, developing countries and is driven by the expansion of human settlement and the production of commodities such as palm oil, soy, and beef. International initiatives to reduce deforestation include the New York Declaration on Forests, which has had 180 nations, companies, indigenous groups and other organizations commit to cutting global natural forest loss in half by 2020 - and ending it completely by 2030. The Consumer Goods Forum, which includes global agricultural commodity companies and consumer goods firms, has pledged to work with suppliers and governments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. Forests are increasingly recognized in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. A related, voluntary program, REDD+, incentivizes developing countries to reduce emissions related to deforestation and degradation, and to increase conservation and sustainable management in exchange for results-based payments. The Paris Agreement, entered into force in 2016, has participating countries set voluntary targets to combat climate change; land including forests was accounted for in targets set by 82% of tropical countries. The Nature Conservancy has estimated that better land stewardship could achieve 30% of the climate mitigation needed to limit global warming to less than 2oC, an overarching goal behind the Paris Agreement. Eliminating deforestation in the tropics, particularly in places such as Brazil and Indonesia, would be a relatively low-cost, effective and natural way to address climate change. Despite decades of investment in combating deforestation, however, 2016 saw the largest amount of annual global tree cover loss in the 21st century to date, according to Global Forest Watch. Climate feedback triggered by climate change, such as a high incidence of wildfires, makes the need to reduce deforestation urgent. For efforts to succeed, however, greater vigilance on the part of governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations is required.

Deforestation and Climate Change

KEY TRENDS

Anthropogenic Environmental Damage