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Environmental Policy and Change

Throughout history, human beings have both experienced effects from and affected the natural world respectively. Even though much has experienced waste as an outcome of human actions, much of what possesses value in relation to the environment has undergone preservation and protection via human activity. Nonetheless, while several uncertainties remain, there is evidence that environmental issues continue to become considerably complex based on the significant spatial scale they occupy. Issues such as global warming and atmospheric pollution consistently affect the community on a global scale. However, one of the major issues affecting the world on a rather imminent level constitutes deforestation. Due to the need for more housing and other relative needs, individuals have continuously cut down trees in order to create more space for population expansion. However, such activities are only destructive to the society, and if not governed by policies, may disrupt the world even more rapidly than anticipated.

Understanding Deforestation

In definition, deforestation constitutes the removal or elimination of a cluster of trees or a forest (Grainger, 2013, p. 21). Usually, after the clearance of the trees, the land that remains becomes accessible for non-forest purposes. Common instances of deforestation comprise the conversion of forests into farming terrains, ranches, or urban dwellings. For further understanding, the term ‘deforestation’ usually undergoes misinterpretation when describing activities in which trees within a specific region experience removal. However, environmental practices such as regeneration harvest comprise sustainable forestry activities in which the removal of trees within areas of temperate climates takes place in order to allow more generation of trees and prolonged biodiversity. Nonetheless, in relation to deforestation, the practice of removing trees has elicited profound effects on the environment and the community in general. As the interaction between the environment and human beings occurs, the environment continues to suffer causing unprecedented effects on a considerable scale.

Causes of Deforestation

Accordingly, deforestation occurs due to various causes. Sponsel, Headland, and Bailey (2003, p. 86) point out agriculture as the main incentive for the elimination of trees. As the need for agricultural commodities increases, more land becomes accessible for cultivation. This availability of land occurs due to increased clearance of trees, ploughing of grasslands, leveling of unproportional grounds, and drainage of marshes as well as the reclamation of aquifer water. Nevertheless, the acquisition of these lands relates more to ecological devastation rather than reasonable activity. Additionally, governments frequently dispense lands under trees to squatters, rather than concentrate on the redistribution of established farmlands irrespective of how the distribution of land ownership may be. On another note, the search for timber in West Africa saw Ghana lose over 80 percent of its forests from which 15 percent of the raw material underwent harvest (Madeira, 2008, p. 22).

In addition to the destruction of forests for agriculture, not much takes place in order to evaluate the fecundity of forest soil before clearance. In global tropical regions, the extraction of trees results in the removal of mineral material, which is usually innate within plant biomass. Based on this, the extraction of this mineral material also leads to the clearance of considerable quantities of nutrients. This only creates poor soil, which in the long term, becomes disadvantageous for farming.  Once agriculture becomes unsuccessful, the cleared land undergoes utilization as cattle ranches, which subjects the bare soil to significant degradation and erosion. For instance, the assembly of the Trans-Amazon Highway by the Brazilian government for the aim of colonizing the empty Amazon basin in 1970 caused large-scale deforestation, which in turn caused soil degradation (Porro & Wood, 2002, p. 34).

Even though much of deforestation has been attributable to agriculture, Meyfroidt et al. (2013, p. 1) asserts that the causes of this particular activity have undergone an intense modification making them complex. Based on this complexity, the causes have evolved to include agents based on economic, demographic, cultural, technological and political factors. For instance, due to the intensification of urbanization and globalization, deforestation has also occurred due to international trade based on the impact it poses in determining alterations within land use. In relation to international trade, the growth of this destructive activity is also a result of increasing agri-business and extensive greatly capitalized forestry and farm organizations, which produce commodities for international markets. Urban centers also pose an effect on land use based on the dynamic traits of their consumption patterns. These consumption trends associate with metropolitan lifestyles as well as extended influential networks (Meyfroidt et al. (2013, p. 3).

Environmental Impacts of Deforestation

Indeed, deforestation imposes significant and extensive impacts on the environment. One of these profound effects comprises climate change. According to Gorte and Sheikh (2010, p. 2), forests preserve massive amounts of carbon and contain more biomass than any other biomes. However, activities related to deforestation pose an impact on carbon fluxes within the soil, the atmosphere and vegetation (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010, p. 3). The consequences of these processes can range, relying on the form of activity. For instance, logging may enable carbon storage if trees undergo conversion to wood materials such as lumber. Nonetheless, the fact that deforestation causes these fluxes is the reason behind the increased release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Defries et al. 2007, p. 388). In addition to this, the discharge of such greenhouse gases has led to consistent global warming, therefore, altering the global climate in turn.

Deforestation has also imposed a negative implication on the water cycle. According to Bosetti and Lubowski (2010, p. 90), trees have access to water within underground aquifers. Based on this, they have the ability to absorb the water from these places and release them as atmospheric moisture. However, deforestation activities restrict the transpiration of the water, which leads to a significantly dry climate. In addition to its effect on the water cycle, deforestation also reduces water content within the soil, aquifers and the atmosphere. The dehydrated soil only allows minimal extraction of water. Moreover, since deforestation dehydrates the soil, it decreases cohesion within it causing the occurrence of events such as flooding, soil erosion and landslides. The removal of trees also decreases the ability of the landscape to intercept, retain and leak precipitation. Instead of ensnaring rain, deforested terrains become resources of surface water excess.

Activities related to deforestation also affect the rate of loss of soil. Naturally, forests possess an insignificant soil loss rate. However, the clearance of trees usually augments soil erosion, by enhancing water runoff and decreasing the soil’s protection from tree debris (Lal, 2001, p. 521). In addition to its effect on soil, deforestation also imposes a negative implication on biodiversity. Accordingly, organisms such as earthworms and other decomposers usually enable nitrogen intake within plants such as legumes. However, due to cutting down trees, such organisms commonly arrive to the surface and end up dying during the process as well as other occurring ones such as erosion. In addition to its effect on biodiversity, deforestation also causes the extinction of numerous species. This is because the elimination of terrains of forest canopies has led to environmental degradation incapable of supporting many of these species.

Policy Responses

Based on the negative effects that deforestation imposes on the society in relation to the environment, it is imperative to construct probable policies focusing on this issue. Such policies will employ legal and social mores and will concentrate on mitigating deforestation before it becomes unbearable.

Funding of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Initiatives

REDD+ initiatives comprise a series of projects, guidelines and interventions set to stop deforestation activities. The overall objective of these policies is to ensure the mitigation of climate change (Agrawal, Nepstad & Chhatre, 2011, p. 373). Nonetheless, the application of such a program is impossible without financial incentives (Madeira, 2008, p. 73). However, the partnership between national governments as well as sub national actors has provided a platform for exercising the policies especially with regard to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation activities.

Conservation Policies

Conservation policies focus on guaranteeing the subsistence of forests within a specific terrain (Pfaff & Robalino, 2012, p. 166). Even though it is difficult to apply a general approach for every region concerning conservation guidelines, it is still possible to ensure that deforestation undergoes limitation based on an agreement between public and private sectors. Such a partnership will ensure that organizations and individuals alike cease from engaging in land clearing activities for their own personal interests.

Afforestation (Tree Planting)

Accordingly, tree planting may have on offsetting the net impacts of deforestation (Gorte & Sheikh, 2012, p. 23). Regardless of this, the method is still viable based on the effect it poses on the mitigation of tree removal. The planting of trees in long cleared areas is beneficial since it will lead to the regeneration of new harvests. Such harvests may affect the degraded environment positively by reversing the implications caused by deforestation activities. Apart from this, afforestation activities may also influence may compensate for the lost quantities of emitted carbon, but in the long-term.

Agricultural Policies

As stated, agriculture is one of the key causative agents of deforestation. Hence, constructing policies relating to it may have a considerable effect on this specific activity. Indeed, governments can implement policies, which maintain artificially low input prices. In addition to this, some policies can focus on provision of cash crop incentives (Arts, 2013, p. 57). Nonetheless, constructing and applying policies that endorse agricultural production at the forests’ expense may decrease deforestation.


In conclusion, deforestation comprises the removal of trees for non-forest purposes. Accordingly, certain driving forces lead to the persistence of this activity. They comprise agriculture, urbanization, and international trade in relation to agri-business. Irrespective of these agents, deforestation imposes a variety of environmental problems on the global society. These issues range from climate change and water cycle alterations to increased soil loss and reduced biodiversity. Hence, in light of these defects, certain policy responses such as REDD+ initiatives, conservation, afforestation and agricultural policies may be adequate to resolve them.


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Arts, B 2013, Forest and nature governance: A practice based approach, Springer, New York.

Bosetti, V & Lubowski, RN 2010, Deforestation and climate change: Reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

Defries, R, Achard, F, Brown, S, Herold, M, Murdiyarso, D, Schlamadinger, B & Desouzajr, C 2007, ‘Earth observations for estimating greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in developing countries’, Environmental Science Policy, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 385-394.

Gorte, RW & Sheikh, P A 2010, Deforestation and climate change, Congressional Research Service, WashingtonD.C.

Grainger, A 2013, Controlling tropical deforestation, Taylor and Francis, Hoboken.

Lal, R 2001, ‘Soil degradation by erosion’, Land Degradation & Development, vol. 12, no. 6, pp. 519-539.

Madeira, ECM 2008, Policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) in developing countries: An examination of the issues facing the incorporation of REDD into market-based climate policies, Resources for the Future, WashingtonD.C.

Meyfroidt, P, Lambin EF, Erb, K & Hertel, TW 2013, ‘Globalization of land use: distant drivers of land change and geographic displacement of land use’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 5, pp. 1-7.

Pfaff, A & Robalino, J 2012, ‘Protecting forests, biodiversity, and the climate: Predicting policy impact to improve policy choice’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 164-179.

Porro, R & Wood, CH 2002, Deforestation and land use in the Amazon, University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Sponsel, LE, Headland, TN & Bailey, RC 2003, Tropical deforestation: The human dimension, Columbia University Press, New York.