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Deforestation is the conversion of forest areas to other forms of land use . The existing forest ecosystem is replaced by another, non -site-specific ecosystem (see anthropogenic biome ) . This most habitats (go habitats ) of the original species living there as well as the socio-economic functions of forests for the people lost. Local communities that traditionally use the forest or are entirely dependent on it are destabilized.

Deforestation, together with the burning of fossil fuels, is also one of the main causes of global warming caused by humans . In September 2019, a report by 25 environmental organizations on the state of forests worldwide found that global forest losses have increased sharply. In 2017 the forest area worldwide decreased by 29.4 million hectares, i.e. 294,000 km². In the period from 2000 to 2012, a total of 2.3 million km² of forest was lost.

The forest on Djouce Mountain , like much of the Irish forest, was cleared in the 17th and 18th centuries to obtain wood for shipbuilding
Deforestation in the Gran Chaco , Paraguay
Deforestation in New Zealand (South Island, Tasman District - West Coast)
Deforestation in New Zealand (South Island, Tasman District - West Coast)

Causes and manifestations

System character

The shrinking of forest areas worldwide cannot be explained monocausally. A network of different causes and interactions between humans or the developing society on the one hand, and the livelihoods they use, such as the forest, on the other, results in a systemic nature of the environment.

Here, factors of different quality can be identified: Deforestation can be brought about deliberately on the basis of rational considerations. However, it can also be an unintended consequence of unsustainable forest management , i.e. if there is a lack of knowledge about the consequences of human trafficking or if the destruction of forests due to poverty or short-term profit-making is knowingly accepted. Ultimately, however, deforestation can also be traced back to external influences such as pollution.

The driving forces behind the immediate causes of deforestation are developments such as the rapid growth of the world population . The increase in population is generally associated with an increase in the rate of deforestation, although the interaction patterns are more complex. It is expected that with a predicted increase in the world population to nine to ten billion people in 2050, the majority of them in tropical countries, the pressure of deforestation will increase further. Furthermore, political and social framework conditions play a role, the economic system, technological developments, social norms and values.

Targeted conversion

If existing forests are to be converted to another form of land use, the forests are cleared , often through controlled burning ( slash and burn ), but also through clear cuts .

In Europe today, forests are usually only converted for construction projects. In North America and North Asia, forest areas are cleared for mining or the extraction of fossil fuels such as crude oil, natural gas or tar sand. In Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, the cleared areas are mostly used for agriculture. The plants grown, especially in South America, are often soy or, in the case of Indonesia, palm trees, from which palm oil or palm hearts are made. If the land is used for plantations of fast-growing tree species, there are mostly eucalyptus species or pines, particular attention Monterey pine . The wood is mainly used in paper production, which has increased the pressure to transform primary forests (or the pressure to use in the case of boreal forests), especially in recent years, together with the increasing demand for biofuels. In addition to large-scale industrial projects, small-scale shifting cultivation in Latin America and Madagascar also causes deforestation.

The conversion of forest areas is done for economic reasons. A characteristic of many forest goods and services is that they do not have markets that make forest conservation profitable. These are in particular CO 2 storage and sequestration , tourism and genetic material.

Illegal and unintentional deforestation

The illegal logging is one of the main drivers of deforestation. Illegal logging and the trade in stolen timber have been classified as environmental crime by international bodies such as the G8 , EU , Interpol and the United Nations Environment Program .

Due to incorrect management, forests are overstrained and degenerate or lose the ability to regenerate. A degenerated forest is also more vulnerable to the risk of forest fires. An article published in 2008 by the Heinrich Böll Foundation named various types of unintended forest fires as contributing causes of deforestation in the Amazon and degradation as a contributing factor:

“Deliberately set fire is an instrument of deforestation. However, part of the deforestation is due to unintended fires, i.e. forest fires. These can be a purely natural phenomenon (after a lightning strike), they can be caused by the spread of intended fires, but they can also be favored by the degradation of the forest through selective logging or climate change. "

Other possible causes of unintended deforestation are pollutant immissions , to forest damage up to the death of forests perform as well as the gradual degradation through grazing, intensive firewood by the public and other forms of nutrient deprivation that cause a decoupling of biogeochemical cycles.

The efficient, sustainable management of forests is only possible if the ownership rights to the forest are fully clarified, exclusive, secured and transferable , otherwise conflicts over borders, access and use will arise and the allocation of resources will be inefficient.

Natural causes

Natural deforestation on Mount St. Helens (2003), 23 years after the 1980 eruption

Part of the deforestation is due to natural disasters. Forest fires and storms are to be mentioned here, but also baldness by insects. The importance of forest fires, droughts and tropical storms as factors of deforestation is tending to increase, as climate change makes such events more likely and at the same time causes them to be more violent.

A few large volcanic eruptions were associated with the destruction of forests. When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 , around 600 square kilometers of forest were destroyed.

Historical development

It is estimated that before humans moved to sedentary life and thus to agriculture, around 6.2 billion hectares of the earth's surface were covered with forest. Today, 3.5 to 3.9 billion hectares are defined as forest area (the numbers vary due to different definitions of forest). Large-scale deforestation occurred wherever civilization had reached its first climax, i.e. in ancient times in southern Europe and North Africa, and also in East Asia (China). Deforestation began in Central Europe during the Middle Ages. Outside of the regions mentioned, forests were transformed from the middle of the modern era onwards with colonization by European nations. In the USA and Canada there was large-scale clearing from the 19th century, as well as considerable forest overuse, especially in Canada. In the tropics, deforestation by the Europeans was motivated from the outset by the targeted conversion of woodland into plantations. The inhabitants were pushed to the periphery by the colonial rulers. Many manifestations of the environmental crises of today's developing countries are rooted in this policy.


Detail from the wood engraving “Dance of Death” (1538) by Hans Holbein the Younger , showing the clearing of a forest to gain arable land

Under natural circumstances, Germany's land areas would be almost completely covered with forest; today the wooded portion has shrunk to around a third. This is mainly due to direct human activities (especially clearing).

The first step towards the reclamation of land therefore consisted in the clearing of a forest area and the creation of a settlement in the periphery of which there were agricultural areas in Central Europe. Animals were driven into the forest to graze.

As the population grew, more and more land was needed. Due to the plague epidemics and wars, however, the population was decimated in many places, so that natural reforestation took place. A first shortage of wood became apparent at the beginning of the 17th century; however, the proportion of forested area in Germany increased again due to the Thirty Years' War in the depopulated areas. On the other hand, there was no change in forestry practice and the forests were heavily overused in the regions.

Larger forest areas were only preserved in Germany until the beginning of the 19th century if the area concerned was a hunting area that was under special protection to preserve the game population. Other examples are the monastery forests z. B. in Bavaria. Many other forests were converted (viticulture, settlement areas, agricultural land) or heavily devastated: Large amounts of wood were required as an energy source in private households and in early industrial production, i.e. in glazing, salt works, tannery, for the production of soot or in mining . In the Black Forest, huge amounts of round wood were tied into rafts until the middle of the 19th century and exported to the Netherlands, where the wood was needed for shipbuilding and foundation. For centuries, farmers have overexploited forests through forest pasture and litter use. At the end of the 18th century there were hardly any forests left in Germany. Wood eventually became so scarce that in winter time fence posts, stairs and all kinds of wooden objects that could be dispensed with at short notice were burned. It should be borne in mind that during this time the climate in Central Europe was significantly colder than it is today ( small ice age , high glacier level in 1850, year without summer 1816).

Due to the wood shortage of these days, the understanding grew that wood resources must be managed sustainably. It emerged the forestry and associated new, non-destructive 'sustainable' forms of forest use. The forests were relieved primarily through the conversion of energy generation to fossil fuels, but also through the ban on wood extraction by private individuals. At the same time, for various reasons, bare areas were afforested with conifers in particular, especially with pines and spruces, which still grew sufficiently well even in soils with a greatly reduced supply of nutrients (through forest pasture and the removal of small wood). Since wood was a valuable product, forests were also planted for economic reasons in the 19th century, which were perceived as capital investments ( soil purity theory ). The forested area in Germany grew again to around a third of the country. The heather areas of northern Germany are still evidence of irreversible deforestation in Germany through overexploitation .

Mediterranean area

The Mediterranean maquis is a landscape characterized by deforestation

In the Mediterranean region, people have been deforestation (= clearing and reclamation ) since the first days of civilization , primarily to gain land for agriculture. Large amounts of wood were used in shipbuilding and in the manufacture of charcoal.

With increasing soil degradation , the originally dominant holm oaks and cork oaks lost their competitive power in favor of the accompanying shrubs. The maquis emerged , a scrub forest with evergreen, hard-leaved shrubs, which by nature originally only appeared on flat slopes exposed to the south.

The overexploitation continued until, due to further soil degradation, even small, scleromorphic shrubs could no longer find suitable site conditions and annual herbs and grasses took their place (see also the tragedy of the commons ).

Geophytes and orchids joined them. Mediterranean landscapes are characterized by open ground and scrubland due to centuries of overuse. The lack of forest is a characteristic of the cultural landscape, for example in Sicily .

Afforestation has only taken place on a larger scale since the 1970s (financially supported by the European Union), especially in Spain, Greece and Portugal. Foreign tree species were often chosen, for example eucalyptus .

United States

Before the Europeans discovered North America, about half of the United States was covered by forest. It is estimated that about 4 million square kilometers of forest still existed around 1600. In line with the population growth , a large part of the forest was cleared over the course of the next 300 years to make room for agricultural use. One to two hectares of new land were cultivated for each additional person . This development only came to a standstill in 1920, even if the population continued to grow. From 1952 onwards, the proportion of forests even increased again, as new forest appeared on unused areas. In 1963 this development reached its peak with a forest area totaling 3,080,000 km². Since then, a steady decline in the forest area has been observed. As before, the remains of the original forests are being cleared and the forests are increasingly being fragmented .

Deforestation today

This satellite image shows Thailand. Brown areas indicate the absence of forest
Slash and burn to obtain agricultural land in Mexico
The cultivation of agricultural products, in this case soybeans, is often preceded by deforestation

Today, deforestation is primarily a problem that affects countries outside Europe, especially tropical (rain) forests. Statistics on deforestation rates in different countries are influenced by national forest definitions. When afforestation and reforestation are taken into account, the largest net loss of forest land is in Latin America. There, the annual loss is around 4.3 million hectares, with deforestation accelerating by 500,000 hectares per year in the period from 2000 to 2005 compared to the 1990s. Brazil has the highest deforestation rate not only in the Latin America region, but also in comparison with all other countries in the world. (However, it should be noted here that natural reforestation was not included in the statistics) Another focus is Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. In Africa, the loss of forest area is around 4 million hectares a year, with a slight decrease from 4.4 million hectares previously recorded. Sudan and countries in the Congo Basin are affected here. In addition, other forest ecosystems in a few other countries in the world are also affected, but deforestation rates there are relatively low.

According to a study by Interpol and the UN Environment Program from 2012, illegal deforestation accounts for 50 to 90 percent of deforestation in the tropical core areas of wood production and 15 to 30 percent of global deforestation.

Global Forest Watch

On the initiative of the World Resources Institute , the global forest was monitoring system Global Forest Watch , which since 2014 on the Internet for everyone makes a versatile and regularly updated on-line monitoring of forests based on an interactive world map (see → Access Links ) . There the deforestation rate at any place on earth for different periods of time from 2000 to the present can be determined in the highest resolution. However, the layman can hardly distinguish the underlying causes. So are z. For example, the immense deforestation in the north of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan cannot be attributed to deforestation, but to natural forest fires, which from time to time are also normal for the boreal forests to a large extent (a possible increase due to global warming is, however, being discussed).


Europe is the only region in the world in which an increase in forest area has been recorded for decades (since 1990 an increase of a total of 13 million hectares has been calculated, not including Russia; this corresponds roughly to the area of ​​Greece). On average, in Europe (excluding Russia), 31.5% of the land area is covered with forest, and another 5% with other forest-like ecosystems (this distinction is not used in Germany, but in other European countries). Across the EU, however, between 2016 and 2018, an average of 49 percent more areas were cleared than in the same period from 2011 to 2015, and wood extraction even rose by 69 percent.

To this day, some European countries are sparsely forested. The lowest percentage of forest cover (or until a few decades ago) was mostly in the formerly large seafaring nations. In Great Britain (1919: 6%, 2010: 12%) and Ireland (11%), little more than 10% of the land surface is covered with forest, the same is true for the Netherlands (11%) and Denmark (13%). In the Ukraine (17%) there is very rich soils, therefore agricultural use predominates there. Other forms of land use also dominate in Moldova and Hungary. Malta has the lowest forest percentage in the EU.


The rate of deforestation in Russia is estimated at very different levels, ranging from net losses of 2 million hectares (WWF estimate) to net increases of 500,000 hectares per year (FAO analysis), particularly since the late 1990s amount. According to state data, the forest area in Russia has shrunk by a total of 160,000 hectares annually since 1990. The wide spread of the estimates is based on the one hand on changes in the calculation bases and on the other hand on the strongly fluctuating overall economic situation. The size of the country results in very different local situations: While large increases have been recorded in the undeveloped or poorly developed areas, areas with more favorable infrastructure are sometimes heavily and often illegal overexploitation.

Possible permanent swamping due to the reduced transpiration is brought about by large clear cuts (currently the permitted size is 250 ha, but until a few years ago clear cuts of up to 2000 hectares were also possible). Primary forests east of the Urals are usually affected here. Deforestation occurs occasionally due to contamination (caused, for example, by heavy metal- producing operations on the Kola Peninsula; large amounts of sulfur dioxide are emitted into adjacent forests).



According to the organization "Mongabay", an estimated 12% of the land area of ​​Ethiopia is forested today. This corresponds to about 13,000,000 hectares. The loss of forest area between 1990 and 2005 amounts to 2.1 million hectares or 14% of the forest area at that time. The main cause of deforestation in Ethiopia in East Africa is population growth and the associated increased demand for agricultural products and firewood. Other reasons include low levels of education and government passive behavior, although the current government has taken action against deforestation.


According to the organization "Mongabay", massive deforestation in Madagascar is causing desertification , water crises and soil degradation , which are noticeable on around 94% of the country's productive areas. The processes intensified after independence from France. The supply of drinking water, food and firewood cannot keep up with the population increase.


Rio de Janeiro - Consequences of deforestation
Section from an araucaria forest in Caxias do Sul

Of the countries in Latin America, Brazil is the one that most closely resembles the image of a colonies - immigration country, following the example of the USA or Australia or South Africa , with u. a. its state motto ("Ordem e Progresso") , its modern technology - and the small proportion of the population of descendants of its original inhabitants (0.2%). But not only land, gold , coffee and rubber were the motives and engines of his conquest and development - but also wood. Even its name goes back to the Pau-brasil , the brazil wood tree (Caesalpinia echinata), from Portuguese Brasa - "glow" and brasil - "glowing", "glowing", (which describes the color of the cut wood, which also for the Dyeing of fabrics). This tree species, which is now threatened with extinction, was very widespread at the time of early colonization in the rainforests of the Brazilian Atlantic coast , which are now largely destroyed, and provided an important export product. The Brazilian araucaria , which has the greatest economic importance of all araucaria species, fared not much better . She is a kind of v. a. the high altitude in the south of the Atlantic forests , of which only remnants have been preserved in an ecologically intact state . The area of ​​the Atlantic coast was the main attack point of colonization and still carries the majority of the country's population (90%), which is responsible for the forests near the coast. a. made a strong impression on Charles Darwin , meant extensive destruction or at least degradation, the consequences of which were most pronounced in the north-east , which is closer to the equator and exposed to the dry climate of central Brazil .

Clearance in the Brazilian Amazon in July 2009
Deforestation in the Bolivian lowlands ( Tierras Bajas )

Brazil has a decisive and central share in the Amazon region , the lowland basin with the richest fresh water and the largest river-rainforest system on earth, which is also considered by some to be the largest (contiguous) (land) ecosystem on the planet. The search for precious woods ( mahogany , rosewood ), which is still strongly associated with Brazil, has long been there. Their more or less uncontrolled exploitation destroys the Amazon forest - if not extensive, then at least ecologically. Deforestation is mainly due to the legal, often state-subsidized conversion to the production of soy or the creation of pastures for livestock (especially cattle), to infrastructure measures on a large scale, e.g. B. Road construction ( Transamazônica ), large projects ( Carajás , Jari project ), large dams ( Tucuruí , Belo Monte ), wild mining of mineral resources ( garimpeiros ) and the settlement and slash-and-burn by landless farmers from outside the forest. In Brazil, this issue is of such importance that the latter in its own political movement or union, the movement of, Sem Terra ' are organized.

In the last five months of 2007, 323,500 hectares were lost in Brazil, and 94,800 hectares in December 2007 alone. As a result, in January 2008 an emergency cabinet of the Brazilian government discussed measures.

After three consecutive years of relative decline, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest accelerated again between August 2007 and July 2008 . During this period, 11,968 km² were lost; this is 4% more than in the same period of the previous year.

In 2005 and 2010 there were exceptional droughts in the Amazon. A possible consequence of deforestation itself, however, drought will inevitably damage the vegetation in the rainforest, which is adapted to almost daily precipitation.

According to preliminary satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research ( Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais , INPE) the deforestation rate fell by 47.5% in the period from August 2009 to July 2010 with 2,296 km² compared to the period from August 2008 to July 2009 with 4,375 km². According to the German BMZ , the decline from 2004 (27,000 km²) to 2010 (less than 7,000 km²) was even 75%. Germany supported forest protection in Brazil from 1996 to 2011 with over 300 million euros. This corresponds to the largest decrease since measurements began in 1988. If this trend continues, Brazil could meet its commitment to reduce the deforestation rate by 80% by 2020 about a decade earlier than agreed. As a result, Brazil is the only tropical country with continuously falling deforestation rates. Critical voices note, however, that the positive data collected by the INPE may not correspond to the actual deforestation rate. The so-called “Real-time Deforestation Detection System” used is a system with low resolution that only detects clearing fires that cover an area of ​​more than 25 hectares. INPE specialists expressed concerns that farmers, in order to escape a discovery now could be gone over smaller- fire clearance to perform. In addition, a sharp increase in wildfires in August 2010 was reported. It is also assumed that the current global economic crisis and the associated decreased demand for raw materials such as soybeans and beef also contributed to the positive development in the deforestation rate. It is therefore uncertain whether Brazil can counteract a renewed increase in the rate of deforestation if commodity prices rise again.

Between August 2017 and July 2018, deforestation reached 7,900 km², its highest level since 2008. Last year it fell by 16% to almost 7,000 km². In the 2018 calendar year, deforestation was 13,000 km². 2012 was the year with the lowest deforestation with 4,500 km². In 2004, the then government decided to take measures against deforestation.

The losses continued to rise rapidly, in 2018 as a whole they were already 13,000 km². In July 2019, INPE observations determined the deforestation of more than 1,800 km² within one month. The new government of Jair Bolsonaro , which turned to the timber industry and mine operators , then questioned the validity of the measurement methods used. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles announced that he intends to commission private service providers with monitoring in the future. According to the Brazilian space agency INPE, a total of 563 square kilometers of forest were destroyed in November 2019. Deforestation increased by 104 percent compared to the same period last year.


Deforestation in Riau , Sumatra , Indonesia

Every year in Indonesia forests of around 1.5 million ha to 1.8 million ha are destroyed. The last intact tropical rainforest in Asia in West Papua is particularly endangered by illegal logging (Indonesia is the world's largest producer of merbau ).

80% of the CO 2 emissions of Indonesia, the fourth largest emitter in the world, are due to deforestation. Peat fires in particular contribute to this. According to forecasts by the United Nations Environment Program , 98% of forests will be degraded or disappeared by 2022.

The clearing of the rainforest is intensified by promoting the use of palm oil as a mineral oil substitute .


CO 2 emissions

Trees carry out oxygenic photosynthesis and need the CO 2 in the air to grow . For this reason, forests are the largest stores of CO 2 on the earth's land surface. For this reason, deforestation acts as a source of CO 2 (immediate release in the event of slash and burn or drainage, delayed release in the event of previous material use of the wood). At the same time, forests can also contribute to CO 2 sequestration. Compensation for emissions caused by deforestation in the context of land use is only possible through afforestation, and only under certain conditions.

Deforestation as a source of CO 2

Different figures are circulating on the extent of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by global deforestation, which are the result of inconsistent calculation methods. The fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 2007 puts this proportion for 2004 at 17.3 percent. According to other sources, 20 to 25 percent of all global anthropogenic CO 2 emissions are due to deforestation. This corresponds to more than 7 billion tons. In the years 2000–2005, the amount of carbon bound in forests was reduced by 1.1 gigatons net annually, which corresponds to CO 2 emissions of 4 gigatons. Afforestation, the natural expansion of forests and net increases in wood stocks in the forests of some countries (primarily in the northern hemisphere of the world) counteract carbon dioxide emissions.

In the case of slash and burn, these emissions are caused directly by the burning of the forest, sometimes together with the carbon stored in the soil. If, on the other hand, deforestation is caused by felling or overexploitation, the wood of the forest is first recycled. In this case, the carbon stored in it only enters the global carbon cycle again as soon as the material produced from the wood is burned, for example, as firewood (shortly after the felling), as waste wood or waste paper .

However, the carbon stored in the soil is also released as CO 2 after deforestation : By removing the forest layer, more energy is supplied to the soil in the form of radiation. This stimulates the activity of microorganisms in the soil, which metabolically burn ( dissimilate ) the organic carbon . This process is promoted by the drainage of forests.

Forests as CO 2 sinks

Only forests in which net production is recorded act as carbon sinks . In very old forests, however, there is no longer any net increase. Decomposition processes (in which CO 2 is released) and the fixation of CO 2 from the air are balanced there. The amount of carbon stored in such a forest then fluctuates around an average value close to the maximum value, as long as no disturbance occurs in the system (natural disasters, human intervention).

CO 2 can thus be sequestered through afforestation . Material use removes CO 2 from the atmosphere for a relatively long time. Following the growth dynamics of forests, assuming material use, more CO 2 can theoretically be bound in an area of ​​the same size through constant use than is stored in an old forest. For this reason, the possibility of crediting wood products in the accounting under the Kyoto follow-up protocol has been required for some time.

On average, 68% of the carbon is stored in the biomass of the vegetation, 17% in the forest soil in the form of humus and in dead wood . The proportions vary depending on the forest community. Boreal forests, for example, often have thick layers of organic material on the forest floor. The amount of dead wood in a forest can also be very different and is the result of forestry decisions or the demand for normally inferior wood assortments.


The exact consequences of deforestation depend on the subsequent form of land use. Intensive agriculture or forestry in the form of plantations is often carried out on the deforested areas . In principle, however, any form of land use that is more profitable from an individual farm's point of view comes into question . The change in biodiversity depends on the new form of use: traditional forms of economy promote biodiversity , while most modern forms cause a significant reduction.

In addition to species-poor anthropogenic ecosystems, in the medium to long term there can also be barren areas that are susceptible to desertification processes . This can be done through unsustainable management, and especially if a subsequent use of the land is not planned, i.e. deforestation was primarily motivated by the use of the wood or, in rarer cases, was brought about by a natural catastrophe event. Desertification is initiated by erosion on the remaining bald areas .

In addition to the loss of species and desertification, other consequences of deforestation can also be floods , which are favored by the fact that no interception can take place due to the lack of forest vegetation : a large part of the rainwater remains in the treetops and evaporates without ever reaching the earth. The transpiration, i.e. the transport of water from the soil from the tree roots to the leaves, is higher in forests than in other forms of land use, because there is much more photosynthetically active green biomass in forests.

Landslides are more likely on deforested slopes, as trees, with their often deep roots, help to stabilize the soil. In addition, deforestation usually leads to a deterioration in the drinking water supply and a reduced purification of the atmosphere.

Socio-economic consequences

Forests in general, and primary forests in particular, are not very profitable. If these forests are converted into plantations, or other forms of land use such as open-cast mining are made possible, an increase in added value and thus the creation of jobs and national income are connected, as well as the development of infrastructure and rural regions. The sustainability of the effects depends primarily on the resources of the soil or the rock, but also on the practice of management. In order to be productive in the long term, plantations have to be artificially supplied with nutrient elements so that the withdrawal of nutrients through the harvest of the products can be compensated for.

With the economic change, however, the existing social structures are exposed to an upheaval. In addition, forests have a high cultural value. This particularly affects indigenous tribal peoples such as the Fayu in West Papua, for whom the tropical rainforest is the most important livelihood.

From an environmental and economic point of view, the ecological consequences of deforestation are associated with medium to long-term economic losses and the loss of high values, which cannot, however, be precisely quantified. Those who cause deforestation do not have to compensate for the damage that they impose on the general public ( externalization of costs).

The destruction of pristine forests through deforestation, mining, road building through remote locations, rapid urbanization and population growth puts people in contact with wild animal species from which pathogens can spread to human communities. There is also a risk of epidemic occurrence with some zoonoses .


Since the resolutions of Agenda 21 , the core document of the " Conference on Environment and Development of the United Nations " (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro (1992), it has been the declared goal of 179 countries to combat deforestation (Agenda 21, Chapter 11 ). There are basically two approaches to counteract the negative consequences of deforestation: The prevention of deforestation, or afforestation .

Since intended land use changes are regularly economically motivated, financial incentives are increasingly favored by stakeholders. The cost of reducing deforestation is estimated by FERN , based on the scientist Stern, at around 5 billion USD. Duties on every barrel of oil traded, as well as the consistent application and adaptation of CO 2 trading are discussed.

Prevent deforestation

In order to counteract unwanted deforestation due to inadequate use of wood or land, measures can be promoted that increase the sustainability of forestry. This includes technical and information measures, education and training and the strengthening of administrative structures. An example of a technical measure are agroforestry systems : On old, nutrient-poor soils of tropical rainforests such as Latosolen , it is usually impossible to practice a European-style agriculture for a long time. After about 5 years, the soil is so depleted that no more crops grow. The result is shifting cultivation , slash and burn and further deforestation. By producing food under the tree layer, the forest can be used for many generations without destroying it.

In addition, an effective law enforcement must be guaranteed in order to counteract illegal logging . This includes legal measures to combat international trade in illegal wood (FLEG programs, in Germany there was an initiative for a primeval forest protection law ). In addition, the local population must be informed about alternatives to the use of firewood. The spread of knowledge about the production of solar cookers from locally available resources should be mentioned here.

Financial incentives that make the conversion of forests into more profitable forms of land use in the short term unattractive are also possible. These can be compensation payments analogous to the water abstraction fee (which is paid to the forest owner for loss of income due to management measures he has not taken). To this end , the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility was launched at the 13th UN Climate Change Conference , which took place in Bali from December 3 to 15, 2007 . This is a fund of the World Bank, into which industrialized countries voluntarily contribute. Certain countries receive money from this pot for the maintenance of forests. Germany's contribution to this fund amounts to 60 million euros, other countries pay more than 100 million euros.

Another approach is to control the demand for goods such as palm oil produced on the converted land using market instruments, which also include certification of sustainable forestry , and consumer information. The sustainable, regional use of non-wood forest products (mushrooms, berries, services) also offers opportunities. It offers the local population a livelihood and thus serves to protect an intact forest ecosystem.

In addition, environmental organizations such as Rettet den Regenwald recommend a more conscious consumption of wood products, for example to limit paper consumption and to buy recycled paper and the most durable, high-quality furniture made from local woods.

Overall, however, a holistic approach is necessary to counter deforestation, as it is also due to poverty, structural deficits and the increase in population density.

Afforestation and reforestation

The Kyoto Protocol enables industrialized countries to improve their own CO 2 balance through reforestation measures in developing countries . In the tropics, it is possible to fix up to 15 t of carbon per hectare and year.

Some aspects speak against afforestation, including the competition with agriculture for water and arable land and thus also food production. The ecological value of planted forests, especially in the case of plantation-like forms of management, is relatively low.

China undertook by far the greatest efforts to reforestation worldwide with its Green Wall project . Over 4 million hectares of forest have been planted since 2000. In China, in particular, erosion has been a known problem for centuries. Spain follows in second place with almost 300,000 hectares. The background to this is also the EC funding programs. Spain is severely affected by desertification processes: According to the Spanish nature conservation authority ICONA, 1 million hectares were already devastated in 1991, and 18.1% of the country (9 million hectares) are severely affected by erosion.

See also


  • FAO (2005): Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. Progress towards sustainable forest management , FAO Forestry Paper 147, see (online)
  • Michael Williams: Deforesting the earth - from prehistory to global crisis. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003, ISBN 0-226-89926-8 .

Web links

Commons : Deforestation  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Sandra Kirchner: Worldwide forest loss at record level. In: Klimareporter. October 3, 2019, accessed on October 5, 2019 (German).
  2. 30 million hectares per year: Worldwide deforestation at a record level, August 6, 2018.
  3. a b c Anja Garms: Where the world's forests are disappearing, November 16, 2013. Quote: "Between 2000 and 2012, the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers of forest through deforestation and natural events such as fires or storms."
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