Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Press Release

New Research Shows Forests Will Disappear Faster Than We Thought: Now is the Time to Put a Price on Carbon, Experts Say

August 24, 2015

WASHINGTON – The Center for Global Development (CGD) released a working paper today showing that tropical forests – whose preservation is thought to be one of the quickest, most affordable way to mitigate climate change – will disappear faster than we thought.

If the world doesn’t act:

  • By 2050, an area of tropical forest the size of India will have been cleared – 289 million hectares, or roughly one-third the size of the United States.
  • By 2050, we’ll burn through one-sixth of our remaining carbon budget – the amount of emissions we have left in order to keep global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, thus avoiding dangerous climate change, according to the UN.

Using the most sophisticated satellite imagery available to study tropical forest data from more than 100 countries, CGD research fellow and environmental economist Jonah Busch and research associate Jens Engelmann have projected a pattern of deforestation more dire than previous research suggested. Their findings show emissions from deforestation will climb steadily through the 2020s and 2030s before accelerating around 2040.

Much of the devastation the research predicts can be avoided if the world puts a price on carbon, either through taxes, payments for emissions reductions or a combination of both.

VIDEO: Jonah Busch Explains Carbon Pricing

Three ways the world can act:

  • International carbon payments. If rich countries pay tropical countries for keeping forests standing, rich countries fight climate change more cheaply while tropical countries receive a new, green source of income that could be used to alleviate poverty.
  • Carbon prices. If developing countries introduce a price of $20-per-ton of carbon dioxide on deforestation, emissions would drop by more than 20 percent by 2020; a $50-per-ton price would cut emissions nearly in half by 2050.
  • Restrictive policies on deforestation. If developing countries introduce restrictive policies on deforestation backed by satellite monitoring and law enforcement, they can have a drastic impact on emissions (Brazil imposed restrictions on deforestation in the Amazon, and as a result, deforestation fell by 80% within a decade while soy and cattle production rose).

“Conserving tropical forests is a bargain,” explained Busch. “Reducing emissions from tropical deforestation costs about a fifth as much as reducing emissions in the European Union.”

"The Paris climate agreement needs to provide funding and other resources to stop tropical deforestation,” said Engelmann. “A climate agreement without robust action on forests will simply not be enough."

About the Center for Global Development

CGD works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for all people. As an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit think tank, focused on improving the policies and practices of the rich and powerful, the Center combines world-class scholarly research with policy analysis and innovative outreach and communications to turn ideas into action. Learn more at www.cgdev.org.