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10% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Deforestation

Earlier this week we put on our website a page that explains the best estimate of what percentage of global warming pollution comes from deforestation. The percentage — 10 percent — updates the consensus estimate of 15 percent that scientists and organizations, including UCS, released at the Barcelona climate conference in November 2009. It also explains why the decrease only represents progress in reducing deforestation to a limited extent. Read More

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Brazil’s Deforestation Progress Takes a Step Backward

This morning, Brazil released its annual data on the rate of deforestation in the Amazon over the past year. But unlike previous years, this year’s figure doesn’t show continued progress. Read More

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What’s in a Name? Why the RSPO’s Definition of “Sustainable” Falls Short

Words are living things. Their definitions and meanings change as society changes, as evidenced by the Oxford English dictionary bestowing official word status to “selfie”, “unlike”, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) in its latest update. Likewise, as society progresses, the definition of some words change entirely. Back in the day, for instance, an “awful” stage play would have filled you with a sense of awe and wonder, while today an “awful” movie is just plain terrible. Unfortunately, after a vote earlier this year by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the word “sustainable” might need to be added to the list of words that have lost their meanings. Read More

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Sources of the Haze in Southeast Asia, Fires Are Quickly Located with Public GIS Data

Over the last two weeks, large numbers of fires have broken out on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and once again this has led to massive air pollution, carried to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. This time, however, people could see not only the choking, dangerous “haze,” but also the locations of the fires, including which ones were on lands used by companies to produce palm, oil, pulpwood, timber, and other commodities. GIS technology and publicly available data, rapidly analyzed by scientists, brought a transparency to the issue that is so sorely lacking in the air over Singapore.

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Transferring Forest Land to Communities Helps Reduce Deforestation – and Can Help Government Budgets Too

Who owns the tropical forests? Till recently, the answer has traditionally been “governments,” at least in formal legal terms. But a quiet revolution in forest land tenure has been going on in several countries over the last few decades, resulting in the traditional land claims of forest communities being recognized, not just in law but also in fact. This change, due to struggles by Indigenous Peoples and their allies, has resulted in large-scale changes in tropical forest land tenure, and ironically, could also bring substantial income to tropical governments too.

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Extending the Success Against Illegal Logging to Palm Oil and Other Drivers of Deforestation

The week before last I had the opportunity to go to London to participate in a workshop at Chatham House, on an idea that may turn out to be very important in ending tropical deforestation. Over the past several years there has been important progress in reducing forest degradation, based on a simple principle: if it’s against the law to cut down trees in one country, then it should also be illegal to import the cut timber from those trees into other countries. In other words, we should respect and help enforce the laws that protect forests in the countries that we import from.

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Three Datasets Agree: Amazon Deforestation Has Been Reduced

Has there been any progress at all in reducing global warming pollution? Is anybody doing anything to deal with climate change seriously? Is it all bad news, or are there at least a few rays of hope? As a scientist, I try to deal with these kinds of questions by looking at data rather than just listening to the radio or watching the TV news, which can be very discouraging. And in the last few months, three new datasets have been released that show us what has been happening to Amazon deforestation since the 1990s. Although they have lots of differences among them, they do agree that in the Amazon — the world’s largest expanse of tropical forest — there has indeed been some progress.

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Categories: Global Warming, Tropical Forests  

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Into Africa: Palm Oil’s Next Frontier?

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and blog posts recently about the expansion of palm oil production into Africa. As near as I can tell, the recent flurry of attention is being caused by Seeds of Destruction, a new report from the Rainforest Foundation UK that highlights a series of large land deals in Africa for the expansion of palm oil. Although most of today’s production is in Southeast Asia, those who follow the palm oil issue are concerned with oil palm’s expansion back to its home continent. It is troubling for a number of reasons. Read More

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The 78%: The Majority of Orangutan Habitat in Borneo is Under Threat

On a recent trip to Chicago, I took some time to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo. The highlight for me was the Great Apes Hall, and while I enjoyed seeing the chimps and the gorillas, they didn’t have the ape I was hoping most to see, an orangutan. It may not be too surprising that there are no orangutans in Chicago in winter, but even in their native habitat they are increasingly difficult to find, as their populations have declined by 50% on Borneo and 80% on Sumatra. A recent paper published in the online journal PLOS ONE helps shed some light on the current distribution of those few remaining wild orangutans. Read More

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Tropical Forests in 2012: A Year in Review

It’s that time of year. Holiday decorations line the streets, days are getting short, and temperatures are falling (well, theoretically at least, it’s still been in the 50’s and 60’s here in Washington). It’s also the time to step back and reflect on what’s happened since the last time the earth was on this side of the sun. Read More

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