Forests: Who’s Driving?

Forests: Who’s Driving?

Deforested area for agriculture in Mato Grosso, Brazil

Drivers of deforestation: they’re on the formal agenda at the climate talks here in Bonn. Strange indeed that a global framework to reduce deforestation and forest degradation—REDD+—has been agreed through the UNFCCC, but without thoroughly defining or addressing the main causes or “drivers” of that forest loss. The role of palm oil, beef production, and cultivation of soybeans for animal feed, and developed country demand for all of these, are acknowledged as important drivers of deforestation by civil society organizations.

Geoff Evans of Humane Society International explored cattle ranching intensification projects or CRIPS (surely not the most appealing project name, or acronym) taking shape in Brazil. The plan is to increase the number of cows grazing on each hectare of Brazilian land from one to two or 2.5. One goal is to reduce deforestation from cattle production while reaching another—doubling by 2018 Brazil’s exports of beef and leather. But CRIPS have downsides; no safeguards for animal welfare or other environmental externalities, such as water pollution or biodiversity loss; the risk that they encourage further deforestation to further increase production and profits; or that they usher in grain-reliant feedlot systems, like those in the U.S., in the Brazilian Amazon.

Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition described the rush to expand soy plantings in Paraguay, including in standing forests and on indigenous peoples’ traditional lands, after many large U.S. producers shifted away from corn to soy, seeking to slake the thirst of the biofuel market. All of this soy, she said, is RoundUp Ready, which requires large amounts of chemical fertilizers that have entered water sources in rural communities.

And Nils Hermann Ranum of the Rainforest Foundation-Norway gave a brisk, fascinating presentation on Norway’s vast pension fund. Even as the Norwegian government puts real money—millions—on the table to help prevent deforestation through REDD+, the national pension fund has invested in some of the very corporations—soy, cattle, oil and gas, and palm oil—driving deforestation.

A question being asked with urgency here: once the drivers are identified, what’s to be done about them? Improve governance, coordinate action across governments (north and south), give teeth to regulations and certification efforts, target consumption in developed countries and don’t make developing countries “pay” for the deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions this produces. It appears to be difficult for governments to answer. A representative of Norway’s ministry of foreign affairs replied to the Rainforest Foundation’s critique that similar concerns had been raised by Norwegian members of parliament. He added that the government does not see the national pension fund as an instrument of foreign policy, preferring to use “other means.” And at a REDD+ partnership side event last weekend, the Australian chair “addressed” the role of meat production in deforestation this way. In a list of drivers, red meat came out on top in terms of impact. So, what do we do about it?, the chair asked; Eat kangaroo instead, he suggested. A joke, perhaps. But the question remains.

Photo courtesy of Leonardo F. Freitas