Deforestation: A Disaster For CO2 Emissions


I must admit that when I first found an interest in the whole topic of carbon emissions and climate change, I had the stereotypical picture in my head of gas guzzling cars, power station chimneys belching out smoke and industrial factories turning the air into a lung disease waiting to happen. I paid little attention to the world’s forests or to the huge (and I mean huge) cost to the environment that deforestation is having.

After quite a bit of time spent researching I came to realise that when people say forests are the “lungs of the planet” they are right.

The figures speak for themselves:

  • deforestation releases 5.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year
  • that’s around 18% of total global emissions
  • that’s more than all transport put together which comes in at around 13.5%

This infographic shows the complete breakdown of emissions:

emissions flow chart

Little did I know that cutting down forests around the world is a major factor contributing to global emissions of CO2e (CO2 or equivalents) but surely if this is the case then there must be ways we can reduce the impact?

Changes as Consumers

The easiest changes to make are usually those that happen in the purchasing of goods and services but behavioural changes are also required if we are to prevent further deforestation on our part. Here are some of the things you can do:

  1. Buy 100% recycled paper and card products – the more we reuse and recycle paper, the fewer trees we need to cut down to process into new virgin paper. Many companies have cottoned onto this fact and consumers are probably buying recycled paper and card products without even knowing it from cereal packets to newspapers.

    But when it comes to buying paper yourself or your office, it is down to you whether you choose recycled paper or new paper. Make sure that you check the sources next time you purchase paper.

  2. Recycle paper and card when you have finished with it – it might seem like an obvious suggestion but even with nationwide recycling for it, some paper and card still makes its way to landfill. In fact, of the total used in the UK, only 65% is recycled, a further 16% could be recycled if it were collected while 19% cannot be recycled according to the 2010 report by the Confederation of Paper Industries.

    The same report indicated a 1.2% rise in paper and cardboard usage in the UK – what the causes are of this I really don’t know.

    I wondered why 19% of paper and card cannot be recycled and found several reasons: paper that has food or drink residue cannot be recycled, the glue that binds some books (and many phonebooks) together prevents recycling much of the time, contamination of certain paper-based products such as tissues and toilet paper means these too are non-recyclable.

  3. Stop using paper where it is not necessary – even recycled paper requires some small percentage of virgin pulp unless it specifically states that it is 100% recycled. So wherever possible it is always best to stop using paper altogether.

    End your emails with “please consider the environment and do not print this email unless it is absolutely essential:.

    Read your newspaper or magazine on an e-reader rather than buy the print version.

    top junk mail by registering at the Mail Preference Service or by reading this comprehensive guide to the process.

    Use paperless billing for your banking, utilities and other bills.

    Many other useful paper usage reduction tips can be found here.

  4. Buy certified products – products that are FSC certified or Rainforest Alliance certified indicate a level of conservation among the source forests.
  5. Eat fewer products containing grazing animal produce – one of the most common reasons given for deforestation is to create more space for animals such as cattle to graze as global demand for meat increases.

    So buy products that are reared locally, eat less beef and pork where possible and steer clear of fast food outlets especially as they are often major perpetrators in deforestation for animal grazing.

  6. Reduce your palm oil consumption – a popular ingredient in products as diverse as chocolate, shampoo and bread, forests across the world are being chopped down to keep up with demand of palm oil. Try to find out which products you buy contain this ingredient and avoid them wherever possible.
  7. Buy from companies with a clear sustainable purchasing policy – demand that the companies you buy from take responsibility for their actions. Companies with a clear policy on sourcing raw materials and components from sustainable suppliers can be rewarded with your custom.

Other changes you can make

There are many organisations out there that campaign against deforestation, many under the REDD initiative umbrella. REDD stands for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and it operates in developing countries to encourage the protection of the remaining forest of the world.

Whether they operate under REDD or not, your support can mean a lot to organisations such as The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the Forest Investment Program (FIP) and the Nature Conservancy.

You don’t necessarily have to give any money; in most cases just a token of your support is enough whether it is signing a petition, joining a newsletter or following them on social networks.

The more people who get behind these campaigns and others, the more governments, companies and consumers will sit up and listen to what they have to say.

Become A Voice In Your Community

It is one thing to change your own habits for the good of the forest but spreading the word is an even more powerful act. It might start with just your friends and family, but if you can build up a head of steam it is possible to change the minds and the behaviours of an entire community.

  • If you have children of school age, speak to the teachers, head teachers and parents association to see how you can get the message across to all pupils and parents alike.
  • Speak to your local councillor or MP – they are elected by the people and are responsible for representing them in the wider world. They are capable of broadcasting your message across countless other communities around the country.
  • Start a local group where other concerned citizens can voice their opinions and share their own tips. It is often grassroots movements that end up having the biggest impact on policy and society so there is nothing to say you can’t be the figurehead of such a movement if you really put your mind to it.
  • Contact the local press to see if they would be interested in featuring your campaign.

Wrapping It Up

If deforestation was not on your mind before reading this article, I hope I have managed to illuminate some of the staggering numbers involved and the problem we face.

I don’t think the issue gets nearly as much press coverage as it deserves. If you think about the number of people talking about electric cars compared to deforestation and then you consider that road transport (including freight) accounts for far less emissions, the focus is not quite as balanced as it should be.

I’m going to try my best to make as many people aware of the problem as possible; will you join me in spreading the word?

Join my newsletter now at the top right of this page to follow my efforts to bring deforestation and other environmental issues to the attention of the public.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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