In a new study* for the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a Washington think-tank, Jonah Busch and Kalifi Ferretti-Gallon look at 117 cases of deforestation round the world. They find that two of the influences most closely correlated with the loss of forests are population and proximity to cities (the third is proximity to roads).
Frances Seymour of the CGD says this may be one reason why Brazil has quieted the chainsaws and Indonesia has not: democracy in Brazil began earlier and has gone further. Since Indonesia banned new logging and plantation concessions in primary forest in 2011, deforestation has actually risen. Land concessions continue to be issued by the Forestry Ministry, rated the most corrupt among 20 government institutions by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission in 2012. Some within government are hostile to anti-deforestation schemes, which they see as “foreign”, says Ade Wahyudi of Katadata, an Indonesian firm of analysts. Perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of a single, unified map including all information on land tenure and forest licensing: efforts to create one have been slowed by unco-operative government ministries and difficulties created by overlapping land claims.
But in the longer term, says Ms Seymour, the link between democratisation and slowing deforestation gives reason for hope. In Brazil it was not until well after military rule ended that the voices calling for protection of the Amazon had grown loud enough that the government had to take heed. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was elected president in 2002, in the country’s fourth election after the end of dictatorship, made anti-deforestation a priority. Indonesia has just had its second free presidential election since the fall of Suharto and politicians across the spectrum say illegal logging must be eradicated (though so did Suharto’s successor).