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Deforestation: Understanding the Link to Climate Change

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19 min read

When trees are cut down or burned, this process is disrupted, releasing the stored carbon back into the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse effect. It also affects local and global weather patterns, leading to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events.

Deforestation is the removal of trees and other vegetation from forested areas for human purposes such as agriculture, mining, and urbanization. This practice is a major contributor to climate change, which is the most urgent issue requiring global climate action. The link between deforestation and climate change is not only evident but also critical to address. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide, so deforestation releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, fueling global warming. It also destroys nature's defense against climate change, as forests help regulate temperatures, weather patterns, and carbon cycles.

Deforestation affects these natural ecosystems, which can have long-term consequences for both the environment and human well-being. Tackling climate change requires aggressive efforts to stop deforestation through policy changes, reforestation initiatives, and sustainable practices. With rapid and comprehensive climate action to curb deforestation, we can help mitigate climate change and its wide-ranging impacts.

Forests play a crucial role in regulating the Earth's climate. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and release oxygen during photosynthesis. CO2 is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, which means that it traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Deforestation disrupts this carbon cycle by releasing the carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere, increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases and further exacerbating climate change.

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In addition to its impact on the carbon cycle, deforestation has far-reaching consequences for biodiversity and local ecosystems. Deforestation leads to the loss of habitats, which can lead to species extinction and can have a domino effect on the entire ecosystem. The removal of trees can also lead to soil degradation, which can reduce the capacity of the land to store carbon, exacerbating climate change and poverty further.

In this blog, we will explore the link between deforestation and climate change in more detail, examining the impact of deforestation on the environment, the economy, and society. We will also discuss the potential solutions to deforestation, highlighting the role of reforestation, sustainable forest management, and other initiatives in mitigating its effects on climate change.

Historical and current rates of deforestation worldwide

Deforestation has been a problem throughout human history, but the rates at which forests are being lost have increased dramatically over the past few decades. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world's forests have shrunk by more than 31% since human civilization began. This alarming statistic highlights the severity of the issue and the need for immediate action.

Historically, deforestation was driven by the need for land to support growing populations, which led to clearing vast areas of forests for agriculture, logging, and other activities. However, with the growth of industrialization and global demand for commodities such as palm oil, soybeans, and beef, deforestation has become more widespread and intensive. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost an area of forest larger than the size of South Africa, with tropical forests being particularly vulnerable.

In recent years, there has been some progress in reducing the rates of deforestation. The 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, recognizes the importance of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). The UN's REDD+ program provides financial incentives to countries that reduce their deforestation rates and improve forest management. As a result of these efforts, the annual rate of deforestation in tropical countries decreased from 16 million hectares in 1990 to 10 million hectares in 2015.

However, despite these efforts, deforestation continues to be a major problem. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 10 million hectares of forest are lost each year, which is equivalent to the size of Iceland. The causes of deforestation vary by region, with the leading drivers being agriculture, logging, and urbanization. Brazil has the highest rate of deforestation globally, driven primarily by the expansion of cattle ranching and soybean production. Indonesia, on the other hand, has been losing its rainforests due to palm oil plantations, which are used in a variety of consumer goods.

The impact of deforestation on biodiversity and local ecosystems

Deforestation has a devastating impact on biodiversity and local ecosystems. The removal of trees and other vegetation not only destroys habitats but also disrupts the delicate balance of ecosystems. Deforestation is one of the leading causes of species extinction, and its effects can be felt both locally and globally.

Forests are home to more than 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity, including a vast array of plant and animal species. Even the greenest countries on Earth rely on these ecosystems for their ecological health and economic well-being. Deforestation destroys these habitats, leaving many species without food, shelter, and breeding grounds. As a result, many species are driven to extinction, and others are pushed to the brink of extinction. For example, the orangutan, one of the most iconic species of the rainforest, is critically endangered due to habitat loss caused by deforestation.

The impact of deforestation on ecosystems extends beyond species loss. Forests play a crucial role in regulating the water cycle, which affects the climate and the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. Trees absorb rainfall and release it gradually, reducing the risk of flooding and erosion. Deforestation disrupts this process, leading to soil erosion, sedimentation, and a decrease in the water-holding capacity of the land. This, in turn, can lead to more frequent and severe floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

Deforestation also contributes to climate change, which has ripple effects on biodiversity and local ecosystems. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. When trees are cut down or burned, they release this carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. This, in turn, can lead to changes in the distribution of species, alter the timing of seasonal events, and increase the risk of disease outbreaks.

How deforestation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions

Deforestation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it in their biomass. When trees are cut down or burned, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Deforestation is estimated to be responsible for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The impact of deforestation on greenhouse gas emissions varies by region. Tropical forests, which contain more biomass per hectare than other forest types, are responsible for a disproportionate amount of emissions. For example, the Amazon rainforest is estimated to be responsible for around 15% of global deforestation-related emissions. In addition to releasing carbon stored in trees, deforestation also disrupts the carbon cycle by reducing the amount of photosynthesis that occurs in the area, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation also has indirect effects on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the clearing of forests often leads to the establishment of agriculture or pastureland, which can lead to further emissions. Agriculture is responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the production and use of fertilizers, which release nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas. Livestock farming also contributes to emissions, primarily through the production of methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The impact of deforestation on greenhouse gas emissions is not limited to local effects. Global demand for commodities such as palm oil, soybeans, and beef, which often come from deforested areas, contributes to emissions through the production, transportation, and consumption of these products. In this way, deforestation and its associated emissions are a global problem with far-reaching consequences.

The relationship between deforestation and soil degradation

Deforestation is a major cause of soil degradation, which can have serious consequences for the health of ecosystems and the well-being of local communities. Soil degradation refers to the decline in soil quality, usually as a result of human activities such as deforestation, agriculture, and mining. Deforestation can lead to soil degradation in several ways.

First, the removal of trees and other vegetation can lead to soil erosion, which occurs when soil is washed away by rain or wind. Trees help to anchor soil in place and their roots hold the soil together. When trees are removed, the soil becomes more vulnerable to erosion. This can lead to the loss of topsoil, which is rich in nutrients and is essential for plant growth.

Second, deforestation can lead to soil compaction, which occurs when the soil becomes more dense and less porous. This can happen when heavy machinery is used to clear land, or when livestock are allowed to graze in deforested areas. Compacted soil is less able to absorb water and nutrients, which can lead to reduced plant growth and lower crop yields.

Third, deforestation can lead to soil nutrient depletion, which occurs when the soil becomes less fertile over time. Trees play an important role in cycling nutrients through ecosystems. When trees are removed, the nutrients stored in their biomass are lost. In addition, deforested areas are often converted to agriculture or pastureland, which can further deplete soil nutrients. This can lead to reduced crop yields, lower soil productivity, and increased dependence on synthetic fertilizers.

Finally, deforestation can lead to changes in soil pH, which is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the soil is. Trees help to buffer soil pH by absorbing and releasing minerals that affect the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. When trees are removed, the soil pH can become more acidic or alkaline, which can lead to reduced plant growth and lower crop yields.

The potential solutions to deforestation

Deforestation is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution. Fortunately, there are several potential solutions that can help to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable land use.

One solution is reforestation, which involves planting trees in areas that have been cleared of forest. Reforestation can help to restore degraded ecosystems, promote biodiversity, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. By planting trees in areas that have been deforested, we can help to restore important ecosystem services, such as water filtration and soil stabilization. In addition, reforestation can provide economic opportunities for local communities, such as through the sale of timber and non-timber forest products.

Another solution is sustainable forest management, which involves managing forests in a way that balances environmental, social, and economic objectives. Sustainable forest management can help to promote biodiversity, maintain ecosystem services, and support local livelihoods. It involves practices such as selective logging, which targets only mature trees and leaves young trees and other vegetation intact, and forest certification, which provides assurance that forests are managed in a sustainable manner.

In addition to reforestation and sustainable forest management, there are other potential solutions to deforestation. For example, reducing demand for products that contribute to deforestation, such as palm oil and soybeans, can help to reduce pressure on forests. In addition, promoting alternative livelihoods for local communities, such as through ecotourism and sustainable agriculture, can provide economic opportunities that do not depend on deforestation.

Furthermore, policy interventions can also play a role in addressing deforestation. Governments can implement policies that promote sustainable land use, such as land-use zoning, forest protection, and incentives for sustainable forestry practices. International agreements, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, can also help to promote sustainable land use practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

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The impact of deforestation on indigenous communities

Deforestation has a significant impact on indigenous communities and their land rights. Indigenous peoples rely on forests for their livelihoods, cultural practices, and spiritual beliefs, and deforestation can disrupt these important connections to the land.

One of the most significant impacts of deforestation on indigenous communities is the loss of their traditional lands. Indigenous peoples often have deep connections to specific areas of forest, which provide important resources such as food, medicine, and shelter. When forests are cleared for commercial purposes, such as agriculture or logging, indigenous peoples can lose access to these resources and their traditional way of life can be threatened.

In addition to the loss of their traditional lands, deforestation can also have negative impacts on the health and well-being of indigenous communities. For example, deforestation can lead to the loss of biodiversity and changes in local weather patterns, which can impact the availability of food and water. Deforestation can also lead to the degradation of soil and water quality, which can impact the health of local communities.

Moreover, deforestation can also have significant social impacts on indigenous communities. For example, deforestation can lead to the displacement of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands, which can result in loss of cultural identity and social disruption. In addition, deforestation can lead to conflict over land use between indigenous communities and commercial interests, which can lead to violence and human rights abuses.

One of the key challenges facing indigenous communities affected by deforestation is the lack of legal recognition of their land rights. Indigenous peoples often have traditional or customary land tenure systems that are not recognized by national laws or policies. This can leave indigenous communities vulnerable to land grabs and other forms of exploitation.

There are, however, efforts underway to address these challenges and support the land rights of indigenous communities. For example, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands and resources. In addition, there are efforts underway to strengthen the legal frameworks that protect indigenous land rights, such as through the recognition of indigenous land tenure systems and the establishment of protected areas.

The economics of deforestation

Deforestation is often driven by economic factors, including the demand for timber and agricultural products. The timber industry is a significant contributor to deforestation, with logging operations responsible for clearing large areas of forest in search of valuable tree species. Similarly, the expansion of agricultural activities such as cattle ranching, soybean cultivation, and palm oil plantations have also been major drivers of deforestation in many parts of the world.

The economic benefits of deforestation are often short-term, with the long-term costs far outweighing any immediate gains. For example, deforestation can lead to soil degradation and erosion, reduced water quality, and loss of biodiversity, which can have significant economic impacts on local communities and national economies. The loss of biodiversity can also have serious implications for the development of new medicines and other products derived from natural resources.

Furthermore, the economic benefits of deforestation are often concentrated in the hands of a few powerful actors, such as large multinational corporations or wealthy landowners, while the costs are borne by local communities and the broader public. These costs can include the loss of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and watershed protection, which are essential for maintaining a healthy environment and supporting human well-being.

To address these economic challenges, there is a growing recognition of the need to transition towards more sustainable land use practices that support both economic growth and environmental conservation. One approach to achieving this is through the development of sustainable forest management practices, which prioritize the protection of ecosystem services and the needs of local communities.

In addition, there are also efforts underway to promote more responsible sourcing of timber and agricultural products, such as through certification schemes that verify the sustainability of production practices. These efforts aim to provide market incentives for more sustainable land use practices while also promoting greater transparency and accountability in supply chains.

The connection between consumer choices and deforestation

The connection between consumer choices and deforestation is a complex and often overlooked issue. Many of the products that we use and consume on a daily basis, such as food, clothing, and furniture, are linked to deforestation through their production and supply chains.

For example, the production of beef, soybeans, and palm oil are major drivers of deforestation in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia. These products are then used in a wide range of consumer goods, including food, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Similarly, the timber industry is linked to the production of paper, furniture, and building materials, which are also commonly used by consumers.

The impact of consumer choices on deforestation can be significant, as demand for these products drives the expansion of agricultural and logging activities. This can lead to the destruction of forests and other natural habitats, and the loss of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and carbon storage.

However, consumers can also play a positive role in addressing the issue of deforestation through their choices and actions. By choosing products that are produced sustainably and responsibly, consumers can help to create market demand for more sustainable practices and support companies that prioritize environmental conservation.

One way to make more informed choices as a consumer is to look for certification labels, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which verify that products are sourced from sustainable and responsible sources. Consumers can also support companies that have made commitments to reduce their environmental impact and promote sustainability in their operations.

In addition, consumers can also reduce their impact on deforestation by adopting more environmentally friendly behaviors in their daily lives, such as reducing meat consumption, using reusable products, and supporting recycling programs.

International efforts to combat deforestation

Deforestation is a global issue that requires international cooperation and coordinated efforts to address. One of the key international programs aimed at combating deforestation is the REDD+ program, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

The REDD+ program was established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005, with the goal of creating financial incentives for developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The program also aims to promote sustainable forest management, conservation, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Under the program, developing countries can receive financial support from developed countries and international organizations in exchange for reducing their emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The funds are intended to support the development of alternative livelihoods for communities that depend on forest resources, as well as the implementation of sustainable forest management practices.

Since its inception, the REDD+ program has gained support from a wide range of countries and organizations, and has provided funding for a number of initiatives aimed at reducing deforestation and promoting sustainable forest management. However, the program has also faced criticism and challenges, including concerns about the effectiveness of its implementation, the distribution of funds, and the potential for negative social and environmental impacts.

Despite these challenges, the REDD+ program remains an important international effort to combat deforestation and promote sustainable forest management. In addition to the REDD+ program, there are a number of other international initiatives aimed at addressing deforestation and promoting sustainable land use practices, including the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests.

While international efforts are important in addressing deforestation, it is also crucial for individual countries and communities to take action in protecting their forests and promoting sustainable land use practices. This includes implementing policies and regulations to curb deforestation, supporting alternative livelihoods for forest-dependent communities, and encouraging sustainable forest management practices.

Consumers also have a role to play in combating deforestation. By making informed choices about the products they buy and the companies they support, consumers can help to reduce demand for products that contribute to deforestation, such as palm oil, soy, and beef. By choosing sustainably produced and certified products, consumers can support companies that are committed to reducing their environmental impact and promoting sustainable land use practices.


Deforestation is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach to address. While international efforts such as the REDD+ program are important in promoting sustainable forest management and reducing emissions from deforestation, it is also crucial for individual countries, communities, and consumers to take action in protecting forests and promoting sustainable land use practices. Only through a collective effort can we hope to address the link between deforestation and climate change and create a sustainable future for all.

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