Biofuels Boom Spurs Deforestation: Efforts to Slow Climate Change by Using Biofuels and Planting Millions of Trees for Carbon Credits Have Ironically Brought Major New Causes of Deforestation, Reports Stephen Leahy

By Leahy, Stephen | Pacific Ecologist, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Biofuels Boom Spurs Deforestation: Efforts to Slow Climate Change by Using Biofuels and Planting Millions of Trees for Carbon Credits Have Ironically Brought Major New Causes of Deforestation, Reports Stephen Leahy


Leahy, Stephen, Pacific Ecologist


21/03/07, BROOKLIN, CANADA, (IPS/IFEJ)--Nearly 40,000 hectares of forest vanish every day, driven by the world's growing hunger for timber, pulp and paper, and ironically, new biofuels and carbon credits designed to protect the environment. Growing eagerness to slow climate change by using biofuels and planting millions of trees for carbon credits has ironically resulted in new major causes of deforestation, say activists. This is making climate change worse as deforestation puts far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire world's fleet of cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.

"Biofuels are rapidly becoming the main cause of deforestation in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil," said Simone Lovera, managing coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition, an environmental Nco based in Asuncion, Paraguay. "We call it 'deforestation diesel'," Lovera told IPS. Oil from African palm trees is considered to be one of the best, cheapest sources of biodiesel, and energy companies are investing billions to acquire or develop oil-palm plantations in developing countries. Vast tracts of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries have been cleared to grow oil palms. Oil palm has become the world's number one fruit crop, well ahead of bananas. Biodiesel offers many environmental benefits over diesel from petroleum and reductions in air pollutants, but the enormous global thirst means millions more hectares could be converted into monocultures of oil palm. Getting accurate numbers on how much forest is being lost is very difficult.

The FAO's State of the World's Forests 2007 released in March reports net forest global loss is 20,000 hectares daily, equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris. But, that number includes plantation forests, masking the actual extent of tropical deforestation, about 40,000 hectares (ha) per day, says Matti Palo, forest economics expert, affiliated with the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica. "the half a million hectare per year deforestation of Mexico is covered by the increase of forests in the U.S., for example," Palo said.

National governments provide the statistics, but countries like Canada don't produce anything reliable. Canada has claimed no net change in forests for 15 years despite being the largest producer of pulp and paper. "Canada has a moral responsibility to tell the rest of the world what kind of changes have taken place," he said. Plantation forests are unlike natural or native forests. More like a maize field, plantation forests are hostile environments to nearly every animal, bird and even insects. Such forests are shown to have a negative impact on the water cycle because non-native, fast-growing trees use high volumes of water. Pesticides are also commonly used to suppress competing growth from other plants and to prevent disease outbreaks, also impacting water quality Plantation forests offer very few employment opportunities, resulting in a net loss of jobs. "Plantation forests are a tremendous disaster for biodiversity and local people," Lovera said. …

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Biofuels Boom Spurs Deforestation: Efforts to Slow Climate Change by Using Biofuels and Planting Millions of Trees for Carbon Credits Have Ironically Brought Major New Causes of Deforestation, Reports Stephen Leahy
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