Reducing atmospheric carbon emissions from tropical deforestation is at present considered a cost-effective option for mitigating climate change. However, the forces associated with tropical forest loss are uncertain1. Here we use satellite-based estimates of forest loss for 2000 to 2005 (ref. 2) to assess economic, agricultural and demographic correlates across 41 countries in the humid tropics. Two methods of analysis—linear regression and regression tree—show that forest loss is positively correlated with urban population growth and exports of agricultural products for this time period. Rural population growth is not associated with forest loss, indicating the importance of urban-based and international demands for agricultural products as drivers of deforestation. The strong trend in movement of people to cities in the tropics is, counter-intuitively, likely to be associated with greater pressures for clearing tropical forests. We therefore suggest that policies to reduce deforestation among local, rural populations will not address the main cause of deforestation in the future. Rather, efforts need to focus on reducing deforestation for industrial-scale, export-oriented agricultural production, concomitant with efforts to increase yields in non-forested lands to satisfy demands for agricultural products.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Grainger, A. Difficulties in tracking the long-term global trend in tropical forest area. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 818–823 (2008).
Hansen, M. C. et al. Humid tropical forest clearing from 2000 to 2005 quantified using multi-temporal and multi-resolution remotely sensed data. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 9439–9444 (2008).
Canadell, J. G. & Raupach, M. R. Managing forests for climate change mitigation. Science 320, 1456–1457 (2008).
Stern, N. The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
Hassan, R., Scholes, R. & Ash, N. (eds) in Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current Status and Trends Vol. 1 (Island Press, 2005).
Voluntary Carbon Standard, Voluntary Carbon Standard Association, Voluntary Carbon Standard 2007.1. <http://www.v-c-s.org/docs/VoluntaryCarbonStandard2007_1.pdf> (2008).
Geist, H. J. & Lambin, E. F. Proximate causes and underlying forces of tropical deforestation. BioScience 52, 143–150 (2002).
Montgomery, M. R. The urban transformation of the developing world. Science 319, 761–764 (2008).
United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision. (Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Population Division, 2006).
Wright, S. J. & Muller-Landau, H. C. The future of tropical forest species. Biotropica 38, 287–301 (2006).
Green, R., Cornell, S., Scharlemann, J. & Balmford, A. Farming and the fate of wild nature. Science 307, 550–555 (2005).
Rudel, T. K., DeFries, R., Asner, G. P. & Laurance, W. Changing drivers of deforestation and new opportunities for conservation. Conserv. Biol. 23, 13961405 (2009).
Olson, D. et al. Terrestrial ecoregions of the world: A new map of life on Earth. BioScience 51, 933–938 (2001).
Breiman, L., Friedman, J. H., Olshend, R. A. & Stone, C. J. Classification and Regression Trees (Wadsworth, 1984).
Chomitz, K. At Loggerheads?: Agricultural Expansion, Poverty Reduction, and Environment in the Tropical Forests (World Bank, 2006).
Nepstad, D. C., Stickler, C. M. & Almeida, O. T. Globalization of the Amazon soy and beef industries: Opportunities for conservation. Conserv. Biol. 20, 1595–1602 (2006).
Rudel, T. K. Tropical Forests: Regional Paths of Destruction and Regeneration in the Late Twentieth Century (Columbia Univ. Press, 2005).
Angelsen, A. & Kaimowitz, D. Rethinking the causes of deforestation: Lessons from economic models. World Bank Res. Observ. 14, 73–98 (1999).
Food and Agriculture Organisation Global Forest Assessment 2005 (FAO Forestry Paper 147, 2006).
Ehrhardt-Martinez, K., Crenshaw, E. & Jenkins, J. C. Deforestation and the environmental Kuznets curve: A cross-national investigation of intervening mechanisms. Soc. Sci. Q. 83, 226–243 (2002).
Jorgenson, A. & Burns, T. Effects of rural and urban population dynamics and national development on deforestation in less-developed countries, 1990–2000. Soc. Inquiry 77, 460–482 (2007).
Rudel, T. K. Changing agents of deforestation: From state-initiated to enterprise-driven processes, 1970–2000. Land Use Policy 24, 35–41 (2007).
Kennedy, G., Nantel, G. & Shetty, P. Globalization of Food Systems in Developing Countries: Impacts on Food Security and Nutrition 1–26 (FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 83, 2004).
Mendez, M. A. & Popkin, B. M. Globalization, urbanization and nutrition change in the developing world. J. Agric. Dev. Econ. 1, 220–241 (2004).
Fargione, J., Jason, H., Tilman, D., Polasky, S. & Hawthorne, P. Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319, 1235–1238 (2008).
Wise, M. et al. Implications of limiting CO2 concentrations for land use and energy. Science 324, 1183–1186 (2009).
Matson, P. A. & Vitousek, P. M. Agricultural intensification: Will land spared from farming be land spared for nature? Conserv. Biol. 20, 709–710 (2006).
Belsley, D. A., Kuh, E. & Welsch, R. E. Regression Diagnostics: Identifying Influential Data and Sources of Collinearity (John Wiley, 2004).
R Development Core Team, R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2008).
Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO Statistical Yearbook 2005–2006 (FAO Statistics Division, 2007).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
DeFries, R., Rudel, T., Uriarte, M. et al. Deforestation driven by urban population growth and agricultural trade in the twenty-first century. Nature Geosci 3, 178–181 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo756
Modelling land use and land cover dynamics of Dedza district of Malawi using hybrid Cellular Automata and Markov model
Remote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment (2020)
Production and establishment techniques for the restoration of Nothofagus alessandrii, an endangered keystone species in a Mediterranean forest
New Forests (2020)
Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2020)
Field evidence for positive certification outcomes on oil palm smallholder management practices in Colombia
Journal of Cleaner Production (2020)
Global Environmental Change (2020)