Footprints in the Jungle: Natural Resource Industries, Infrastructure, and Biodiversity Conservation

By Ian A. Bowles; Glenn T. Prickett et al. | Go to book overview

7
Trade, Transnationals, and
Tropical Deforestation
Nigel Sizer

From Guyana to Gabon, from Suriname to the Solomon Islands, growing global demand for wood and its derivatives has been driving an onslaught on the world's remaining tropical forest frontiers. These forests are home to the majority of global nonaquatic biological diversity. Between half and three-quarters of global terrestrial biological variety is found living in and depending upon tropical forests (Reid and Miller 1989; Bryant et al. 1997).

Forests also store vast quantities of carbon. Fully 15 to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions arise from tropical deforestation and the associated burning and accelerated decomposition. As the world starts to talk about spending money to reduce carbon emissions, it is apparent that the cost of such burning adds up to many billions of dollars each year (Brown P. 1998).

Furthermore, a vast diversity of human culture thrives in forests. In each of the Amazon and the Congo river basins, three or four hundred distinct languages and cultures have been described. These are being lost as fast as the forest itself (Lynch 1992).

According to the United Nations, forests cover 3.4 billion hectares (8.5 billion acres) of the earth, or 27 percent of land surface. Between 1980 and 1995, nearly 200 million hectares of forest was lost, and partially offset by reforestation, resulting in a net loss of about 180 million hectares, or an average annual loss of 12 million hectares (FAO 1997). The equivalent of about 3 percent of global forest area is in plantations, an increase of 40 percent in fifteen years, and a 300 percent rise in the tropics. Fire-related deforestation is also on the rise, with massive El Niño–related burnings in the past year in Indonesia, Brazil, and elsewhere in the tropics.

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