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Forests face threats from multiple industries

Scientists have long argued that intact forests are major climate regulators and harbors of biodiversity. Unfortunately, such forests are currently disappearing at an alarming rate. While agriculture has previously been considered the main culprit behind forest loss, a new study led by Fudan University in China has found that multiple industries are in fact to blame too. 

For instance, for forest loss associated with the 2014 world economy, more than 60 percent was related to final consumption of non-agricultural products, including minerals, metals, and wood-related goods. Moreover, according to the experts, international trade markets should also be taken into account when designing conservation strategies.

“Regional land use change is no longer simply driven by local demand; it is also indirectly influenced by international markets and the surging consumption of land-based products,” the study authors explained. “Countries with forest conservation goals can import finished land-based products via global supply chains, displacing land-use pressure and related eco-environmental impacts outside their own territory borders.”

By using multi-source geographic information data and economic modelling, the scientists evaluated both the direct and the indirect causes of forest loss. While previous research has largely focused on deforestation (the complete removal of tree cover), this new study also highlighted the insidious roles played by degradation and fragmentation.

“Even the removal of narrow tracts of forests can affect overall forest structure and composition. Considering the exceptional conservation value of intact forest landscapes in terms of stabilizing terrestrial carbon stocks and harboring biodiversity, intact forest landscapes loss displacement can also reflect potential indirect driving forces behind carbon emissions and biodiversity loss,” the authors wrote.

“It is widely thought that beef production drives deforestation in the Amazon, but it is hard for consumers to realize that the production of highly processed equipment may involve timber and metals produced at the expense of intact forest and that services provided by tertiary sectors may be supported by electricity generated from oil and gas associated with this loss. The more dispersed nature of intact forest loss drivers and their indirect links to individual final consumers call for stronger government engagement and supply-chain interventions,” they concluded.

The study is published in the journal One Earth.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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