En-en adult card 6 deforestation

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Card #6: Deforestation

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Deforestation is defined as cutting down or burning trees beyond the ability of the forest to restore itself. 80% of deforestation is driven by agricultural expansion.


Deforestation, clearance, clearcutting or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use.[1]


Deforestation can be seen as a human activity, as a consequence of agriculture, or both. However, the main issue with deforestation is not so much that it destroys carbon sinks, but that it emits CO2 that took decades or centuries to capture. It's a question of flow vs. stock.

Facilitation advice

The consequences of this card and of the Other GHGs card are often forgotten, because participants often focus on the consequences of Fossil Fuels. It is important to make sure that participants also consider the consequences of this card.




Other possible links

Other causes

  • Industry This link is possible for wood-consuming industries. However, wood used by a factory from a sustainably managed forest is not considered deforestation.
  • Transportation Road construction sometimes requires deforestation, but the one-dimensional aspect of the road makes it almost negligible compared to wide-scale agriculture-related deforestation.

Other consequences

  • Carbon Sinks Participants often think that deforestation reduces carbon sinks. In reality, the impact is minimal because deforested areas represent a very small part of the total forest area. Moreover, a mature forest has reached its equilibrium and no longer absorbs carbon. Therefore, as mainly mature forests are deforested, this does not impact carbon sinks. On the other hand, the amount CO2 released is very high.
  • Radiative forcing When forests are cut down, a dark green surface is replaced by a light green one, which has a higher albedo and therefore absorbs less energy.
  • Disruption of the Water Cycle Deforestation can perturb local precipitation.
  • Terrestrial Biodiversity Deforestation causes huge losses of biodiversity. To animal biodiversity because forests are hosts to many species. The forest biodiversity index fell by 53% between 1970 and 2014 [2]. And also to plant biodiversity, as 8,000 of the 60,000 known tree species are considered endangered.[2].
  • River Flooding Vegetation retains water. Cutting it down can lead to flooding.
  • Droughts Deforestation can be the direct cause of droughts because trees stock a lot of water. If they are cut down, they no longer play their part as humidity regulators.
  • Forest Fires One way of clearing forests is to burn them down, with the risk of losing control of the fire. This is what happened in the summer of 2019 in the Amazon forest and in Australia.

Additional content

Wood usage

93% of the wood from deforestation is burned (paper, agriculture, disposable furniture, etc.) and only 7% is used in a sustainable way (long-lasting furniture, construction, etc.).

Distribution of causes of deforestation

The drivers of deforestation[3] are:

  • 40% for commercial agriculture, to breed livestock or to grow soy or oil palm
  • 33% for local subsistence farming
  • 10% for urban expansion
  • 10% for infrastructure expansion
  • 7% for mining.

These numbers are global averages, and vary greatly from country to country.

Speed of forest loss

The area of forest lost each year is gradually shrinking. It has decreased from 7.8 million hectares lost per year in the 1990s to 4.7 million hectares in 2010. This is mainly due to the fact that forests are growing elsewhere, either naturally or artificially.[2].