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The world’s highest rates of deforestation, a significant cause of global warming, are happening in the key emerging economies of Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil, according to new research evaluating the state of the world’s forests.
The Deforestation Index, released by risk analysis and mapping company Maplecroft, states that economic growth, poverty, corruption and the rise of biofuels are among the major causes of deforestation in nine countries which have been classified as ‘extreme risk.’ These include Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil, as well as Bolivia, Cambodia, DR Congo, Nicaragua, North Korea and Papua New Guinea.
Maplecroft’s research evaluates deforestation in 180 countries, which poses significant threats to carbon sinks, habitats for biodiversity, water tables and indigenous peoples. The index uses the latest available data, from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, to calculate changes in the extent of overall forest cover, and in primary and planted forests between 2005 and 2010.
Deforestation is a key factor in contributing to rising atmospheric CO2 levels and subsequent climate change. Deforestation and forest degradation are estimated to contribute up to 20% of global greenhouse gases (GHG) every year. According to the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this amounts to more than the entire global transportation sector and is second only to the energy sector.
Brazil, one of the world’s new economic powers, is ranked 8th and ‘extreme risk‘ in the index. The country is a global hotspot for biodiversity and deforestation and the focus of high profile campaigns to protect its unique rainforests. From the 1990s, the cattle sector has been the key driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, along with soy bean production and more recently, the rising importance of ethanol as a biofuel. Infrastructure projects, such as road building and hydroelectric dams, built to connect and ‘develop’ the country in its drive for economic growth, have also contributed heavily. Even where agreements have released cultivated land for legal biofuels production, the knock on impacts for land use pushes cattle farmers and small scale farmers into the neighbouring rainforest, leading to deforestation.
Deforestation has been decreasing in Brazil from an average of 2.9 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 2.2m hectares annually in 2005–2010. However, according to figures from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, deforestation increased 500% in March/April 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, much of which happened in Mato Grosso state, the heart of Brazilian soya bean production. It has been reported that this rise was encouraged by changes to the Brazilian Forest Protection Law, passed in the House of Representatives and awaiting approval by the Senate. This bill would grant immunity from prosecution for illegal deforestation activities prior to 2008 and exempt small landowners from having to maintain 80% of forest on their lands.
Deforestation Index 2012
© Maplecroft, 2011
One of the principle risks to the world’s forests is the production of palm oil, which is increasing at 9% annually throughout the tropical belt, due to expanding biofuel markets in the EU and global food demand. Indonesia, ranked 2nd in the index, is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. It is estimated that palm oil accounts for almost 16% of deforestation in the country. The Indonesian government has however imposed a two year ban on new forest concessions after a number of multinational corporations dissociated themselves from the largest palm oil producer in the country.
The Indonesian ban on deforestation is however, forcing palm oil producers to seek land elsewhere, notably in the West African countries of Liberia, Gabon and Ghana, which will likely increase their risk.
Nigeria, ranked 1st in the index, lost just over 2m hectares of forest between 2005/2010, a 4% reduction per year. This alarming rate of deforestation has forced the Nigerian government to take measures, including a submission to UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). REDD+ approved US$4 million in funding in October 2011, for the protection of forests in Cross River State, which is now home to 50% of Nigeria’s last remaining primary forest. This brings total funding from REDD+ for national programmes to US$59 million.
“The drivers of deforestation in Nigeria are a complex mix of agricultural expansion, logging, infrastructure development and high levels of national and state level government corruption,” states Maplecroft Analyst Arianna Granziera. “Additionally, forest protection laws are often obsolete and weakly enforced, which is compounded by a lack of resources and training. Poverty is also an important factor, as trees cleared for firewood are the only source of fuel available to the poorest in society.”
Paradoxically, the world’s biggest polluters, China and USA are in the bottom five countries in the Deforestation Index, with China the outright best performer. China has heavily invested in a very ambitious reforestation programme in an attempt to control soil erosion, desertification and protect water resources. Forested areas in the country increased by 2 million hectares per year during the 1990s and 3 million per year since 2000.
The United States, 176th in the index, reported the largest net gain in primary forest, of more than 200,000 hectares per year. This is primarily the result of a very effective and long-established protected areas network, which has allowed ecological process to revert forests back to a primary state.
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