This article takes a quick look at tropical deforestation and its causes.


Tropical deforestation is an issue that raises passions among many people. The thought that the worlds most valuable ecosystem, made up of trees that have stood for hundreds of years could disappear in the next one to two hundred years is something that most people know is wrong. More than half of the world’s plant and animal species call the tropical rainforests their home. They are the most outstanding terrestrial ecosystem. But if we know all this to be true, why has so little progress been made in solving this problem?

Deforestation and tropical deforestation in particular are closely linked to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Trees store carbon, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and release them when they are cut or burned. Climate change is a complex problem to solve, but reducing deforestation is one of the cheaper and easier options available.

In one of my first articles back in February 2017, I wrote about the 3 deadly C’s. These are combustion, cattle and chainsaws. These were outlined by James Lovelock as being 3 aspects of human activity that are having an outsize impact on the environment. You can find a link to my article below. 

The 3 Deadly C’s & Sustainability

I think we can build on James Lovelock’s analysis and be more specific about the drivers of tropical deforestation.

Forest Trends have a great paper, which you can find via the link below. Some of the figures point to what the drivers are.

Supply Change: Tracking Corporate Commitments to Deforestation-Free Supply Chains, 2017

Commercial agriculture is driving at least 2/3 of tropical deforestation globally. This means that action in this area is absolutely essential to controlling tropical deforestation.

The majority of forest clearance stems from the production of the big four commodities. These are:

  1. Palm
  2. Soy
  3. Timber & pulp
  4. Cattle

It is fairly straightforward to understand that a forest would be cleared for the valuable timbers that it holds within it.

The recent focus on palm oil has brought a greater degree of attention to the links between this commodity and deforestation.

But I think the link between soy and cattle, and deforestation is less well understood. Forests are cleared to create land to graze cows. Further land is cleared to grow soy to feed to the cows. This is not only a highly inefficient process, but destroys an irreplaceable ecosystem, not to satisfy human needs, but to satisfy human wants. More emphasis of the benefits of plant-based diets is needed.

What you need to know

This article looked at tropical deforestation and its causes.

We looked at how tropical deforestation poses a threat to biodiversity as well as contributing towards climate change.

We looked at how commercial agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation, with the big four commodities making up the lions share of that deforestation.

Little progress has been made in solving this problem, because of the disconnect between the environmental destruction and the products that it creates. Until recently there was little public understanding  of the link between the palm oil in their goods and deforestation. A lot of people may not have been aware of the presence of palm oil at all.

Timber and pulp are areas that have been well covered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). But there are still a lot of uncertified forest products on sale in developed countries and in developing countries there is only a small appetite for certified products.

With regards to soy and cattle, which I will link because 70% of soy that is grown is fed to animal livestock. There is little public understanding that their desire for low cost meat is driving deforestation. Despite progress in the other two areas. Progress in this area will remain slow until there is a clear link in the mind of consumers between their desire for beef and tropical deforestation.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think tropical deforestation can be controlled?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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