Economic growth is commonly associated with globalization – an economy tends to do better when it trades with others. But it is also commonly associated with deforestation and forest degradation – as consumption levels rise in richer economies, the demand for products and raw materials grow, and more forests are either cut down to extract wood material or converted to a different type of land use, such as agriculture.
But beyond this general narrative, what else do we know about the relationships between economic growth, globalization and forests? And how can this knowledge inform forestry strategic planning and policymaking?
A study on Economic globalization, trade and forest transition – the case of nine Asian [economies] (Li, Liu, Long, De Jong and Youn, 2015) took one step forward in assessing various socioeconomic parameters – population density, planted forest area, import value of forest products, percentage of forest products in total exports, and total export value – and their relationships with forest area, volume and density.
This study was based on the APFNet-funded project: Comparative Analysis of Transitions to Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation (2011 to 2013), which analyzed the progress, drivers and pathways of forest transition – the switch from net forest loss to net forest gain in a given economy – in the Asia-Pacific region.
There are many ways for forest transition to occur. These ‘forest transition pathways’ include state policy influences, economic development and globalization. Understanding the drivers of forest transition can help an economy make better sustainable forest management strategies and policies.
Given that the models used in this study do not represent any single economy, the authors stress that their results should only be loosely interpreted. Nonetheless, the study’s findings present an interesting perspective on the relationship between economic integration and forests. The authors also highlight the need for further research in the future to verify their results.
Here is a summary of what they found:
1. Manufacturing and service exports can prompt forest conservation
Economies that ‘upgrade their export structure’ by shifting away from exporting primary sector products (natural resources) to secondary (manufacturing) and tertiary (services) sector products tend to see an improvement in the condition of their forests. This is also positively linked to the amount of foreign direct investment absorbed in the manufacturing and service sectors.
2. Increase in total exports is generally correlated to increase in forests
The authors of the study found economies that increase their total export value tend to see an improvement in forest conditions. This is especially true if the fraction of forest products in total exports is low, implying a shift away from exporting primary resources to other manufactured products and/or services.
3. Urban migration can relieve pressures on forests
Manufacturing and service sector growth creates jobs in cities, which encourages the migration of people from rural to urban areas and decreases the dependence of people on forest resources for livelihood.
4. Richer economies tend to value forest conservation
As the dependence on forests for livelihood decreases, opportunities for forest conservation open up. Researchers found that economies with a higher GDP per capita tend to have improved forest quality, indicating that shifts in consumption patterns in richer economies are coupled with increased demand for forest conservation. However, richer economies also tend to face reduced forest area and volume, indicating that more efforts on forest expansion are needed in addition to conservation.
While the authors point out that the results of the study should be interpreted carefully when drawing region-wide conclusions, these findings show the importance of understanding and considering how non-forestry sectors of the economy participate in economic globalization, when developing sustainable forest management policies.
How do you feel about globalization and their impacts on your economy’s forests? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.