Deforestation: The Players, Problems, and Potential Path Forward
Read Time: 4 Minutes
What do drug cartels, large corporations, and climate change all have in common?
In a recent teleconference GLG held with Mark Ungar, a Professor of Political Science and Criminal Justice at The City University of New York, he discussed his study of and new solutions for this widely used practice.
Hosted by GLG’s Sam Stopps, the conversation delved into deforestation’s key players, challenges, and impacts, as well as Mark’s idea to combat the issue globally. He explained how corporations and loggers are not the only offenders and beneficiaries of this practice and how organized crime groups, local politicians, and investors are also playing a part. What follows is an edited and condensed version of their conversation.
Can you briefly introduce the topic of deforestation to our audience?
To understand deforestation in the most comprehensive way, you need to identify the gaps that corporations, governments, and others face in dealing with eradicating this practice. The whole process is called “the chain of enforcement,” which is how deforestation laws, regulations, and controls are enforced; how well they are implemented; and how well governments, corporations, and citizens work together to enforce them.
There are four ways we can respond to these areas:
- We need better federal, regional, and local assessments with much stronger material and political support for agencies working to reduce deforestation.
- We must concentrate on macro and microeconomic opportunities to implement more sustainable activities.
- We need to take a hard look at anti-money laundering (AML) assessments.
- We need a more comprehensive study of global supply chains.
Can you now discuss the role of forests and deforestation in climate change?
Deforestation is a huge part of controlling climate change. Within the tropics alone, it contributes to about 20% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, global forests absorb about two times as much carbon as they emit, so they’re essential for maintaining climate balance.
The most recent statistics show forests absorbed 7.5 billion metric tons of carbon, which is about one and a half times more than the United States emits each year. If the trees are cut down, they’re obviously not going to absorb the carbon.
Can you touch more on the role corporations play in deforestation?
Corporations are obviously the major suppliers of wood products and essential to the entire chain of enforcement. There are three different types of corporations that play an outsized role in deforestation: the suppliers of goods, consumer goods corporations, and financial firms that invest in these companies.
There needs to be a more objective measurement of how the chain works and what the roles of corporations are in terms of what they can control, what they can’t control, and also the need to calculate alternatives. Developing broad-based “zero deforestation” pacts with local suppliers is both financially feasible and a sound strategy for avoiding inadvertent deforestation.
Can you discuss the impact deforestation can have both on Indigenous communities and on human rights?
The lack of protection by the state, the constant economic pressures, and their marginalization in general makes it very difficult to halt deforestation in Indigenous communities. Indigenous groups are subject to not only substandard economic activity but increasing activities around them that limit their ability to maintain the forests and protected areas.
In Caquetá, Colombia, there are a lot of resettled Indigenous groups that have returned to the land after the war ended and are trying to maintain sustainable development. The issue is that there’s a lack of clarity over where the borders of the land are because it hasn’t been demarcated, so encroaching ranches, oil exploration, road building, and gas exploration have taken over in these areas.
You also have groups who benefit from the effects of deforestation on Indigenous groups, such as cocaine producers. In northeastern Honduras, deforestation increases landslides and flooding in the coastal areas, forcing a lot of the people living in those areas up into the highlands. As a result, when they are expelled from those areas, their only option is to work with the organized crime groups.
About Mark Ungar
Mark Ungar is a Professor of Political Science and Criminal Justice at The City University of New York. He is an advisor to the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and foreign governments on police and judicial reform. Recent work includes three years on the citizen security commission in Honduras; assessment of the new criminal database for the federal government of Mexico; a proposal with the government of Colombia to strengthen policing in areas being demobilized as part of the peace accords; and with the government of Indonesia to assess enforcement of anti-deforestation laws and policing. He has published over five books, including one on deforestation called The 21st Century Fight for the Amazon (2017).
This article is adapted from the GLG Teleconference “Deforestation.” If you would like access to the transcript for this event or would like to speak with experts like Mark Ungar or any of our approximately 1 million industry experts, contact us.
Questions Asked During the Teleconference:
- Can you briefly introduce yourself and the topic of deforestation to our audience?
- Can you now discuss more on the role of forests and deforestation in the role of climate change?
- Can you discuss the current major locations of deforestation?
- Some corporations such as IKEA in recent years have received much public criticism for using products as a result of deforestation. Can you touch more on the role of corporations, and are there any specific corporations that are large players in deforestation?
- Regarding the outcome of the second round of the presidential election between Bolsonaro and Lula, how will that impact deforestation in your view? Do you believe Lula is more likely to take a stricter approach to it?
- Can you discuss a little bit more in detail the impact deforestation can have both on Indigenous communities and on human rights in the areas where deforestation is occurring?
- Can you discuss the role that deforestation can have both on soil erosion and on coastal flooding? Is there a direct correlation between increased deforestation and impacts on soil quality?
- Do you have any last final remarks or thoughts for our participants?