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Land Use

Forest Protection

Malaysia’s tropical hardwoods have been in demand for centuries, intensively so in the last twenty years. During that time, timber companies have not only profited from the sale of timber, they compounded their gains by installing palm oil plantations. Much of the logging was illegal, as was the appropriation of the land. The effects have been devastating. Logging has degraded or destroyed the vast majority of Malaysian rainforests, and the deforestation rate is faster there than in any other tropical country. Home to one of the most intelligent primates, the critically endangered orangutan, it is estimated that only 20 percent of Borneo’s rainforests remain. This photo shows the silt-laden waters of the Miri River, colored orange by runoff from upstream logging, and the herringbone tethering of smaller-diameter trees, which indicate that forests are not being allowed to recover before being logged again.

The most critical of all forest types is primary forest, known as old-growth or virgin forest. Examples include the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia and those of the Amazon and the Congo. With mature canopy trees and complex understories, these forests contain 300 billion tons of carbon and are the greatest repositories of biodiversity on the planet.

In 2015, there were an estimated three trillion trees in the world. That count is substantially higher than previously thought, but more than 15 billion are cut down each year. Since humans began farming, the number of trees on earth has fallen by 46 percent. Carbon emissions from deforestation and associated land use change are estimated to be 10 to 15 percent of the world’s total.

Strategies to stop deforestation and protect forests include:

  • public policy and the enforcement of existing anti-logging laws;
  • market-driven mechanisms, primarily eco-certification programs that inform consumers and affect purchasing decisions; and
  • programs that enable wealthy nations and corporations to make payments to countries and communities for maintaining their forests.

The benefits of forest conservation include biodiversity protection, non-timber products, erosion control, pollination, ecotourism, and other ecosystem services.


300 billion tons of carbon: FAO. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016.

logged…biological degradation: Zimmerman, Barbara L., and Cyril F. Kormos. “Prospects for Sustainable Logging in Tropical Forests.” BioScience 62, no. 5 (2012): 479-487.

[deforestation in] the Fertile Crescent: Diamond, Jared. “The Erosion of Civilization.” Los Angeles Times. June 15, 2003.

world’s tree population: Crowther, T. W., H. B. Glick, K. R. Covey, C. Bettigole, D. S. Maynard, S. M. Thomas, J. R. Smith et al. “Mapping Tree Density at a Global Scale.” Nature 525, no. 7568 (2015): 201-205.

15.4 million square miles: World Bank. 2015. “Forest Area (sq. km).”

forest [lost] every minute: World Wildlife Fund. “Deforestation.”

emissions from deforestation: Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello. “Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).” In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate ChangeContribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015; Van der Werf, Guido R., Douglas C. Morton, Ruth S. DeFries, Jos GJ Olivier, Prasad S. Kasibhatla, Robert B. Jackson, G. James Collatz, and James T. Randerson. “CO2 Emissions from Forest Loss.” Nature Geoscience 2, no. 11 (2009): 737-738.

emissions dropped by 25 percent: FAO. FAO Assessment of Forests and Carbon Stocks, 1990–2015. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015; Federici, Sandro, Francesco N. Tubiello, Mirella Salvatore, Heather Jacobs, and Josef Schmidhuber. “New Estimates of CO2 Forest Emissions and Removals: 1990–2015.” Forest Ecology and Management 352 (2015): 89-98.

Conversion of forest…soil carbon: Guo, Lanbin B., and R. M. Gifford. “Soil Carbon Stocks and Land Use Change: A Meta Analysis.” Global Change Biology 8, no. 4 (2002): 345-360.

offset…carbon emissions: Pan, Yude, Richard A. Birdsey, Jingyun Fang, Richard Houghton, Pekka E. Kauppi, Werner A. Kurz, Oliver L. Phillips et al. “A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests.” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 988-993.

Forest Carbon Partnership Facility: Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. 2016 Annual Report. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2016.

terrestrial plants and animals; pharmaceuticals: Seymour, Frances, and Jonah Busch. Why Forests? Why Now? Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2014.

Brazil…[deforestation] cut by 80 percent: Seymour and Busch, Forests.

state of Pará: Tollefson, Jeff. “Battle for the Amazon.” Nature 520, no. 7545 (2015): 20-24.

agreement between…meat-packers and Greenpeace: Srinivas, Siri. “Brazil Beef Industry Pledges to Cut Amazon Deforestation.” The Guardian. May 14, 2015; Wilkinson, Allie. “In Brazil, Cattle Industry Begins to Help Fight Deforestation.” Science. May 15, 2015.

Achim Steiner [on Brazil]: Seymour and Busch, Forests.

2016…[deforestation] ticked back up: Biderman, Rachel and Ruth Nogueron. “Brazilian Government Announces 29 Percent Rise in Deforestation in 2016.” World Resources Institute. December 9, 2016.

what is would “cost”: Boucher, Doug, Diana Movius, Carolyn Davidson. Estimating the Cost and Potential of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation. Washington, D.C.: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2008.

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