Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions — equivalent to the annual tailpipe emissions of 600 million average U.S. cars.

Reducing tropical deforestation can significantly lower global warming emissions and—together with efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuels—plays an integral role in a comprehensive long-term solution to global warming.

To accomplish this, we need to understand the driving forces behind deforestation today—including large agricultural industries such as palm oil, soybeans, beef, and timber—and the many reasons why reducing deforestation must be a priority.

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Palm oil and deforestation

Palm oil is used in thousands of products that many people use every day, from baked goods and ice cream to household cleaning products and shampoo. Unfortunately, this ingredient is responsible for large-scale forest conversion in the tropics and extensive carbon emissions.

UCS is calling on companies that use palm oil to adopt strong, deforestation-free and peat-free sourcing policies. Our Palm Oil Scorecard ranks some of America's biggest brands on their commitments to deforestation-free palm oil.

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Deforestation solutions and success stories

Photo: Angelo Cavalli/Corbis

Despite rapid expansion of the drivers of deforestation, there have been notable successes in channeling their growth in ways that no longer cause deforestation. Businesses can move to become deforestation-free, and consumers can make sure businesses know this is a priority. This strategy has produced encouraging progress on deforestation-free palm oil.

Strong policies can also play an important role. REDD+, which offers rewards to developing countries for reducing their deforestation rates, is one of the best, most affordable strategies for reducing tropical deforestation. On the demand side, the U.S. has used the Lacey Act to close the market for illegally sourced wood. However, these policies require effective implementation and enforcement in order to work.

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Climate-friendly land use

Photo: Rob Tilley/Corbis

The way we use our planet's forested ecosystems and agricultural land can have a big impact on climate change. Currently, inefficiencies in food and farming systems threaten tropical forests by increasing the demand for the drivers of deforestation. To help stop deforestation—and to reduce the heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming—we need to make smart decisions that shift consumption and land use patterns in less wasteful directions.

Biofuels can also contribute to deforestation. When land used for food or feed production is turned over to growing biofuel crops, agriculture has to expand elsewhere. The resulting emissions from clearing new land can outweigh any emissions savings from the use of biofuels. Effective biofuel policies must fully address this issue.

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