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Research Report

The Underlying Causes of Forest Decline

Arnoldo Contreras-Hermosilla
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2000
Pages: 29
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-3)

    According to the World Resources Institute, the world has lost about half of its forest cover. Despite a number of initiatives to stop forest decline, the world continues to lose some 15 million hectares of forests every year. Deforestation over the period 1980-1990 reached 8.2% of total forest area in Asia, 6.1% in Latin America and 4.8% in Africa. Most modern deforestation takes place in developing countries, particularly in tropical areas. The process generates large amounts of carbon dioxide – equivalent to 20% of global emissions from fossil fuels, making deforestation the second most important contributor to global warming –...

  2. (pp. 3-7)

    Forest decline here is interpreted as deforestation, forest degradation or a combination of both. These terms are not precise. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines deforestation as the “sum of all transitions from natural forest classes (continuous and fragmented) to all other classes” (FAO 1997). The loss of forest cover attributed to these transitions must occur over less than 10% of the crown cover for the phenomenon to qualify as deforestation.

    It is not clear whether this refers to substantial areas or to, say, a particular hectare. What is the area that can be considered as...

  3. (pp. 7-20)

    As underlying causes are so numerous and interrelated, their study necessarily must be selective. First, we will discuss some of the weaknesses, or outright deficiencies, of the market that produce signals that eventually induce forest decline. Second, we will examine actions by governments – regulations, monetary or other policies, direct investments – that influence actors’ motivations, sometimes producing incentives to deforestation and forest degradation. Next, we will consider particular governance factors that contribute to forest decline – weak land ownership rights, illegal activities and corruption. Finally, a selected group of underlying socioeconomic causes that are hybrids between market forces, policy...

  4. (pp. 20-22)

    It could be argued that, according to various value systems and specific situations, deforestation and forest degradation is not always undesirable as suggested by the abundant literature on the subject. For example, it is easy to conceive of situations where environmental losses may be more than compensated by economic gains and improved well-being of the poor. Or where economic losses are more than offset by the additional welfare obtained by conserving some of the global biodiversity values of forests and the possibility of securing an independent means of evolution for traditional indigenous societies. Here we are more concerned with the...