Classifying drivers of global forest loss


Forest loss is being driven by various factors, including commodity production, forestry, agriculture, wildfire, and urbanization. Curtis et al. used high-resolution Google Earth imagery to map and classify global forest loss since 2001. Just over a quarter of global forest loss is due to deforestation through permanent land use change for the production of commodities, including beef, soy, palm oil, and wood fiber. Despite regional differences and efforts by governments, conservationists, and corporations to stem the losses, the overall rate of commodity-driven deforestation has not declined since 2001.

To end deforestation, companies must eliminate 5 million hectares of conversion from supply chains each year. Further, their results indicate that policies designed to achieve zero-deforestation commitments are not being adopted or implemented at the pace needed to meet 2020 goals. 

The study suggests that identifying regions dominated by shifting agriculture may be important for identifying the extent to which this land use contributes to forest degradation, and for food supply chains where sourcing from smallholder farmers is often a priority, but where slash-and-burn practices may be leading to undesirable impacts and corporate risk. Finally, the research findings contributes to a more informed discussion about forest conservation, restoration, and management options globally by providing an enhanced experience for the more than 2 million users of the Global Forest Watch platform to understand what is driving forest change around the world, thus preventing a common misperception that any tree cover loss shown on the map represents deforestation 

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