Is that hot shower deforestation-free?
By Josephine Njoroge
At a Forest Day 6 discussion forum, ecologist Doug Boucher spoke about the three D’s that characterize the face of deforestation today: Drivers, Different and Dynamic.
“Drivers vary in important ways among and within countries,” said Boucher, who leads the Climate Research and Analysis unit of the Union of Concerned Scientists. His message reinforced the one delivered by the session’s keynote speaker, Heru Prasetyo, who shared the complexities associated with unraveling the drivers of deforestation in Indonesia.
Boucher explained that those complexities proliferate when country-specific drivers are viewed from a global lens. “Drivers vary depending on the continent you’re on and, often, the country you’re in,” he said.
In Central and South America, for instance, cattle pasture for beef production and the soybean industry are major drivers. In contrast, these drivers have little impact in Southeast Asian countries; here, the major drivers currently are the timber and palm oil industries. In contrast, Boucher said, smallholder farming and charcoal production are the leading drivers of deforestation in Africa.
Boucher stressed that not only do the drivers vary by locality, they can also change rapidly.
To illustrate this dynamism, he gave the example of the soybean industry in Brazil where, since the Soy Moratorium came into force in mid-2006, deforestation on account of soybean production has dropped from 20% to around 2%. The moratorium—a pledge to neither trade nor finance soybeans harvested in deforested areas within the Amazon biome—was recently extended to January 2014.
This means that the drivers that led to deforestation 10-20 years ago are not the same as current drivers and may not be the same as those of the future, and the drivers can be influenced by policy.
Boucher is optimistic about the deforestation discussions that will be held 15 years from now: “I think we’ll be at the point where we have just as much or more reforestation occurring globally as deforestation… and we will be talking about the drivers of reforestation!” he said.
“The dynamism of drivers can be dramatic!” Boucher said, adding another ‘D’ word for good measure. He said the state of the global economy affects drivers, explaining that the palm oil industry, now globalized, is one few would have picked up two decades ago as an important future driver. Another example is the currently burgeoning beef and soybean markets.
Tony Simons, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Director General, moderated the forum, and in response to multiple audience comments about consumerism being a key driver of deforestation, highlighted the findings from a lifecycle carbon footprint analysis done by Unilever PLC on 1,600 of their personal care products. The report indicated that an overwhelming 68% of their products’ carbon footprint was from use in consumer households.
Boucher’s reaction was that whereas it is exceedingly difficult to stop people consuming products in order to reduce their carbon footprint, we could increase the demand for ‘deforestation-free’ products that do not have a negative impact on the environment.
“A hot shower is just fine if it’s heated with renewable energy,” he illustrated. “Promoting deforestation-free timber (e.g. timber from agroforestry systems or sustainable plantations, instead of forests) is another way.”
He stressed the need for everyone to ask themselves: “Is this product associated with deforestation?”
Forest Day 6 was held on 2 December 2012, on the sidelines of the 18th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP18) in Doha. The “Drivers of Deforestation: Exploring Regional Differences and New Patterns” discussion forum was hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).