A new study questions the impact of forest protection schemes in Costa Rica and four other countries. The study says that although these developing nations have protected their own woodlands, they are encouraging deforestation elsewhere by importing wood.
Concern for woodlands even figured in the court decision on the Crucitas open pit mining project Wednesday. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Costa Rica has protected about 27 percent of its land area with national parks, reserves and refuges. However, according to the study, for every 100 that are protected, about 74 acres are deforested elsewhere to feed the appetite for wood.
The other countries are Vietnam, El Salvador, China and Chile, according to a summary of the study produced by Stanford University.
The study says that the world’s forests are vanishing at a rate of more than 32 million acres a year, which the authors say is roughly the size of the U.S. region of New England.
“Reducing deforestation is an international priority, given its impacts on carbon emissions and biodiversity,” said study co-author Eric Lambin of Stanford University and the University of Louvain in Belgium. “However, our study found that strengthened forest-conservation policies and economic expansion often increased the demand for imported timber and agricultural products, which contributed to deforestation abroad.”
In the study, Lambin and co-authors Patrick Meyfroidt of the University of Louvain and Thomas Rudel of Rutgers University analyzed the relationship between reforestation at the national scale and the international trade in forest and
agricultural products between 1961 and 2007. The researchers focused on the five developing countries plus India. All six underwent a shift from net deforestation to net reforestation during that period, they said.
With the exception of India, the return of native forests was accompanied by a reduction in timber harvests and new farmland, thus creating a demand for imported wood and agricultural products.
“For every 100 acres of reforestation in these five countries, they imported the equivalent of 74 acres of forest products,” said Meyfroidt. “Taking into account their exports of agricultural products, the net balance amounted to 22 acres of land used in other countries.”
During the past five years, the net land-use displacement increased to 52 acres of imported agricultural or forestry products for every 100 acres reforested, he added. That is, for every acre of reforested land, a half-acre was used elsewhere, including countries like Brazil and Indonesia, which together accounted for 61 percent of deforestation in the humid tropics between 2000 and 2005, he said.
“If local forest protection merely shifts forest-conversion pressure to natural forests elsewhere in the world, we will not achieve a net gain for nature at a global scale,” Lambin said. “However, this study does not imply that the effort of these countries to protect their forests was useless, but that international trade in wood and agricultural products can decrease the global environmental benefits of national forest-protection policies. The glass is half full, not just half empty.”
The authors propose more international cooperation on deforestation and integrating trade date in negotiations on environmental issues.
The authors will present the study at the Dec. 5 meeting of the U.N. Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Cancun, México.