This Week In Forest Carbon: Half Of Tropical Deforestation Comes From Illegal Activities


A new study published by Forest Trends finds that 49% of tropical deforestation since the turn of the millennium has been due to illegal land conversion for commercial agriculture. Fighting illicit activity in tropical forests can be dangerous and sometimes even fatal. Forest Carbon News also covers a recent photo report that documents Ka’apor warriors in Brazil capturing illegal loggers.

17 September 2014 |What do a hamburger, a chicken nugget, a tube of toothpaste, and a cardboard box have in common? They’re all products that are likely connected to tropical deforestation.

About three-quarters of all tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was caused by commercial agriculture for major crops such as beef (that hamburger), soy (used in chicken feed), and palm oil (which makes its way into toothpaste and countless other products), according to a new report by Forest Trends. The ‘conversion timber’  the trees cut down as a forest is converted to other land uses is often used in packaging materials.

Nearly half (49%) of tropical deforestation since the turn of the millennium has been due to illegal land conversion, the report finds. Illegal activity takes on many forms. In Brazil, for instance, organized land grabbers cleared swaths of the Amazon and then took advantage of government programs that grant land titles after the fact. In Cambodia, a rubber company was issued a land concession five times the size allowed by law, with more than half of the land area falling within a national park. In Tanzania, a jatropha company fudged the authorship of an environmental impact assessment and convinced villagers to sign documents they didn’t fully understand.

Illegal deforestation is a topic that has often been brushed under the rug, but it’s essential to address, the report argues, in part because of its scale.

“There is a lot of policy work and research and meetings and discussions that have been happening over the past two, three, four years regarding commercial agriculture and these commodities as a driver of deforestation, but the legality point has been almost non-existent within those debates,” says Sam Lawson, the lead author of the study.

Existing efforts to address global deforestation, such as the United Nations-backed program for developed countries to pay developing ones to reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD), are undermined by rampant illicit activity. Voluntary “zero deforestation” commitments by companies such as pulp giant Asia Pulp and Paper and palm oil trader Wilmar are also less meaningful when their pledges focus only on future deforestation, since illegally cleared land can continue to yield products such as soy and palm for decades, Lawson says. And as long as illegal activity goes unpoliced in so many places, there will always be companies willing to take the path of least resistance.

“One of the ways of getting ahead of the curve on agricultural commodities is if you learn the lessons of what took the timber community 20 or 30 years to realize that you need regulation at the consumer country level rather than just voluntary policies, and you may need to look at legality instead of sustainability,” Lawson says.

The report, Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations, can be downloaded here. Its findings have already echoed around the world through news coverage in The GuardianLe MondeDeutsche WelleDie ZeitBBC, and The Wall Street Journal.


More stories from the Forest Carbon Marketplace are summarized below, so keep reading!

The Ecosystem Marketplace Team

If you have comments or would like to submit news stories, write to us at [email protected].



Bold ambitions for Climate Week

On Sunday, September 21, artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese will install a 3,000-pound ice sculpture called ‘Dawn of the Anthropocene’ at the intersection of Broadway and 23rd Streets in New York City. And, as an anticipated 100,000 people walk through the streets as part of the People’s Climate Summit, the ice sculpture will symbolically melt away. The march is just one of the events surrounding the United Nations Climate Summit, during which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders from government, finance, business and civil society to “bring bold announcements and actions” next week. Forest-related events that will be occurring around the Summit include: a discussion of the demand-side challenge of deforestation-free supply chains; a panel of leaders from corporations, indigenous peoples and governments calling for action to reduce deforestation; a colloquium for thinking about big ideas for “transformational change” for forests and climate; and a photography exhibit on indigenous people protecting forests. A full list of events is available here.


Partners in forest

A new partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) aims to restore at least 150 million hectares of forest landscapes by 2020, an area the size of Alaska. Achieving this would sequester an estimated one gigatonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from the atmosphere each year and generate $85 billion worth of annual ecosystem services benefits to developing countries. The collaboration brings together two major global initiatives the UN’s REDD program and IUCN’s Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration and will include a Helpdesk function for assessing restoration opportunities, as well as a mapping database for carbon and other benefits.



Guyana, you are the weakest link!

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs singled out Guyana as a “weak element” among its partner countries in forest protection because of slow progress in utilizing Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund monies and other issues. But Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative Secretariat has a more positive view of the partnership because Guyana has made remarkable progress on the technical aspects. Guyana and Norway signed a REDD+ pay-for-performance partnership in 2009 that could amount to $250 million in payments to 2015, depending on Guyana’s performance. But stronger Norwegian representation in Guyana is necessary to ensure the partnership does not go awry.



It’s getting wet out there

The US state of Louisiana loses about a football field worth of wetlands every hour. Barring a major intervention, much of Southeastern Louisiana will sink into the Gulf of Mexico by 2100. The 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast outlined an ambitious plan to save the state’s coastal wetlands, an effort that has already yielded some success in the form of completed projects, including a barrier island rebuilding project on Pelican Island. But current funding levels fall far short of the $50 billion needed for coastal wetlands restoration projects, meaning that other sources of financing including possibly the carbon markets must be identified and accessed.



Is your fruit killing that tiger’s home?

Major palm oil suppliers may still be buying tainted palm oil despite commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, according to a new investigation by Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental groups in Indonesia. The investigation tracked fresh fruit bunches illegally produced within the protected Bukit Batabuh tiger corridor in Sumatra and found the fruit entered palm oil processing facilities owned by Asian Agri, Wilmar and other companies and eventually shipped to a port that counts Cargill among its customers. But the investigation wrapped up in January 2014, before Asian Agri, Cargill and Wilmar announced new steps to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.



When is the price right?

With national emissions trading systems or carbon taxes on the horizon from China to South Africa,companies are adopting a price on carbon for business planning purposes. Globally, 150 companies reported to CDP that they use an internal carbon price, but those prices have a wide range: Microsoft uses $6 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) while UK-based utility Pennon Group uses a range of $84.24-324/tCO2e (2010 and 2050 projections, respectively). These internal carbon prices are sometimes creating a pool of money used to purchase carbon offsets. But what is the right price to instigate behavior change inside companies? “Within the electric utility sector, you’ll start to see behavioral change around $30/tCO2e,” says Mark Trexler, Chief Executive Officer of the climate strategy and risk group Climatographers. “In the transportation sector, you won’t start to see behavior change until over $100/tCO2e.”



A Peruvian tragedy

Four leaders of the Ash¡ninka community  Edwin Chota Valera, Leoncio Quincima Melndez, Jorge Rios Perez and Francisco Pinedo were murdered last week on the Peruvian border with Brazil. They were on their way to meet with the Ash¡ninka in Acre, Brazil to continue their collective work to monitor their territories from illegal wood loggers and narco-traffickers. The assassinations may be motivated by revenge by illegal loggers, according to regional indigenous leaders. The Ash¡ninka and human rights campaigners released a manifesto that calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, for a permanent forum to address illegal activities on the Peru-Brazil border, and for establishing clear, legal land ownership for the Ash¡ninka. 

Ka’apor crackdown

In the Maranhao state in the northeast corner of the Brazilian Amazon, members of the Ka’apor tribe frustrated by inadequate government assistance in stopping illegal logging on their land are protecting their forest by force. A recent photo report shows warriors capturing illegal loggers, beating them with sticks, burning their truck and cutting into their precious logs to ruin the contraband. At least one man wears a shirt that reads “Guarda Ambiental Indigena” (Indigenous Environment Guard) as he expels loggers from the Alto Turiacu territory. The photographs were taken on August 7 by Lunae Parracho, for Reuters.


‘No, thanks’ to carbon finance

The Kuna Yala people of Panama have kept their 3,240-square-kilometer old growth forest intact even as other forests across Central America have fallen to logging and agriculture. In June 2013, the Kuna General Congress voted against participating in a REDD+ project proposed by project developer Wildlife Works that would presumably pay them to continue to keep this forest standing and sequestering carbon dioxide. “The Kuna people feel that many institutions, NGOs, and governments are taking advantage of them,” said Heraclio Herrera, a Kuna biologist. “We’re open to getting help, but we want others to respect the forests because they don’t belong to us; they belong to our creator.”



Cooling things down

The conversion of forests into cropland worldwide has triggered an atmospheric change that has had a net cooling effect on global temperatures, according to a study by Yale University Professor Nadine Unger published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Unger reports that large-scale forest losses have reduced global emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), which control the atmospheric distribution of many short-lived climate pollutants. She calculated a 30% decline in BVOC emissions between 1850 and 2000, largely through the conversion of forests to cropland, which produced a net global cooling of about 0.1 degrees Celsius. During the same period, the global climate warmed by about 0.6 degrees Celsius, mostly due to increases in fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions.


A scary view from the top

More than 104 million hectares of intact forest landscapes were degraded between 2000 and 2013, an alarming rate of degradation of forest lands three times the size of Germany, according to a new analysis conducted using satellite technology and advanced techniques. The worst damage was done in the Northern boreal forest belt of Canada, Russia and Alaska, accounting for almost half the degraded land, while 25% of the degraded area was found in the Amazon rainforest and 9% in the Congo Basin. “We can clearly see that business as usual will lead to destruction of most remaining intact forests this century,” said Nigel Sizer, head of Global Forest Watch, the online forest monitoring and alert system hosting the new maps.


What a bargain!

The world’s tropical forests could be quickly and accurately mapped by a fleet of airplanes outfitted with advanced Light Detection and Ranging remote sensing technology at a bargain price of $250 million, according to a new paper published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management. This would be a more cost-effective approach than a typical Earth observation satellite mission, and far less than field-based sampling, according to the paper. The $250 million amounts to just 5% of the funding pledged to REDD+ initiatives.



Pricing watershed services in a thirsty world

In 2013, governments and companies invested $9.6 billion in initiatives implementing nature-based solutions to sustain the world’s clean water supply, with payments restoring and protecting a total of 365 million hectares of land, according to Forest Trends Ecosystem Marketplace’s State of Watershed Investment 2014. More than 90% of watershed investment came from national public subsidies, mostly in China, though the private sector particularly food and beverage companies is playing a growing role. “Environmental risk mitigation is clearly driving private investment in watershed health,” says lead report author Genevieve Bennett. “Water companies, for example, are finding it more cost-effective to pay for healthy forests that mitigate fire or flood risks upstream, rather than to face supply disruptions after an extreme event.”


Cropping up emissions

While more efficient agricultural technology has decreased pressure on forests in Latin America and Asia, a similar ‘green revolution’ in Africa could actually lead to more deforestation and higher emissions, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the context of an integrated global market, crops that shift to Africa will be grown more cheaply but will also have lower yields, therefore requiring more land up to 1.8 million more hectares than are currently cultivated on the continent, according to the study’s authors. The study estimates that pressure on forests would reduce within a few decades as yields improve, but tropical forests and their carbon stocks should be protected in the meantime.



Post-Doctoral Researcher in Above-ground Carbon Dynamics Woods Hole Research Center

Based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the Researcher will develop novel approaches to the direct measurement and mapping of above-ground carbon dynamics at a global and local scale. The position requires assembling and analyzing remote sensing datasets, and expertise building statistical relationships between field and satellite image data is needed. The successful candidate will be familiar with REDD+ and forest carbon monitoring, reporting, and verification.

Read more about the position here


Knowledge Management and Communications Officer Papau Low Carbon Development Programme

Based in Papau, Indonesia, the Knowledge Management and Communications Officer will support the Papaun Government, five regency governments, and other stakeholders in implementing a 20-year plan for sustainable development. The program aims to develop strong community-based businesses in a range of fields, from sustainable community logging to non-timber forest products to ecotourism. The position will require implementing communications activities such as policy briefs, reports, case studies, a website, seminars, conferences, exchanges and study trips.

Read more about the position here


Project Assistant, Litigation Team ClientEarth

Based in London, United Kingdom, the Project Assistant will provide administrative and research support for ClientEarth’s new litigation team, working on environmental justice, biodiversity, climate and forests, and other issues. The successful candidate will have a bachelor’s degree, excellent organizational and writing skills, and the ability to work well under pressure. Fluency in English is required; proficiency in another European language would be desirable.

Read more about the position here


Climate Negotiator, Sustainable Landscapes U.S. Department of State

Based in Washington, D.C., the Climate Negotiator will support U.S. engagement and help formulate and implement U.S. government policy on international climate change and related issues, particularly with respect to sustainable landscapes and REDD+ issues. Eligible candidates should have at least three years of experience in climate issues. Ideal candidates will have experience or exposure to international negotiations. U.S. citizenship is required.

Read more about the position here


Carbon Offsets Program Manager Google

Based in Mountain View, California, the Program Manager will support sustainability goals globally by coordinating and working on aspects of carbon offset procurement. Ideal candidates will have a master’s degree and five years of relevant experience with climate policy, procurement, contracts, and vendor management. The position will involve travel to all offset project site locations.

Read more about the position here


ABOUT THE FOREST CARBON PORTALThe Forest Carbon Portal provides relevant daily news, a bi-weekly news brief, feature articles, a calendar of events, a searchable member directory, a jobs board, a library of tools and resources. The Portal also includes the Forest Carbon Project Inventory, an international database of projects including those in the pipeline. Projects are described with consistent ‘nutrition labels’ and allow viewers to contact project developers.
ABOUT THE ECOSYSTEM MARKETPLACEEcosystem Marketplace is a project of Forest Trends, a tax-exempt corporation under Section 501(c)3. This newsletter and other dimensions of our voluntary carbon markets program are funded by a series of international development agencies, philanthropic foundations, and private sector organizations. For more information on donating to Ecosystem Marketplace, please contact [email protected].

Ecosystem Marketplace is a project of Forest Trends, a tax-exempt corporation under Section 501(c)3. This newsletter and other dimensions of our voluntary carbon markets program are funded by a series of international development agencies, philanthropic foundations, and private sector organizations. For more information on donating to Ecosystem Marketplace, please contact [email protected]

Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *