October 22, 2008

Corporations and tropical deforestation

In an interval of just 1–2 decades, the nature of tropical forest destruction has changed. Rather than being dominated by rural farmers, tropical deforestation now is substantially driven by major industries and economic globalization, with timber operations, oil and gas development, large-scale farming and exotic-tree plantations being the most frequent causes of forest loss. Although instigating serious challenges, such changes are also creating important new opportunities for forest conservation. Here we argue that, by increasingly targeting strategic corporations and trade groups with public-pressure campaigns, conservation interests could have a much stronger influence on the fate of tropical forests.
This is the abstract of the paper New strategies for conserving tropical forests by Rhett A. Butler and William F. Laurance.
From the 1960s to 1980s, tropical deforestation was largely promoted by government policies for rural development, including agricultural loans, tax incentives and road construction [...]

More recently, the direct impact of rural peoples on tropical forests appears to have stabilized and could even be diminishing in some areas. Although many tropical nations still have quite high population growth, strong urbanization trends in developing nations (except in Sub-Saharan Africa) mean that rural populations are growing more slowly, and in some nations are beginning to decline. [...]

[At the same time] industrial logging, mining, oil and gas development and especially large-scale agriculture are increasingly emerging as the dominant causes of tropical forest destruction. [...] Many of these [resource-exploiting corporations] are either multinational firms or domestic companies seeking access to international markets, which compels them to exhibit some sensitivity to the growing environmental concerns of global consumers and shareholders.
We should expect more rational outcomes when people act as consumers or as company owners than when they act as voters, so we should welcome the shift - even if far from complete - in tropical deforestation causes from government policies to market forces.

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