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 it, it's important to understand the driving forces behind deforestation today and the many reasons why reducing deforestation must be a priority.

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10 reasons to reduce tropical deforestation

Photo: Jamie Tarris/Corbis

We already know we are putting too much heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air when we burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, fuel our cars, and heat our homes—but by cutting down and burning trees, we are also releasing an astounding amount of the same heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Here are just 10 reasons why investing in forest protection initiatives is in the nation's best interest.

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What's driving deforestation

Large agricultural industries such as palm oil, soybeans, beef, and timber have become the major forces driving tropical deforestation today.

The drivers of deforestation differ by region — soybean and beef production are the major drivers in South America, while timber, paper, and palm oil production are more important in Southeast Asia — but all of them play a significant role on a global scale.

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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

In a series of reports on the industries that drive deforestation — wood products, vegetable oils, and meat production — UCS explains the expansion of these drivers into tropical forests, presents the alternatives, and gives recommendations for how businesses, governments, and consumers can go deforestation-free.

Despite the rapid expansion of these 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 direct their shopping toward businesses that do so.

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The importance of REDD+

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries plus related pro-forest policies) offers rewards to developing countries for reducing their deforestation rates. REDD+ policies offer one of the best, most affordable strategies for reducing tropical deforestation, and recent data show they are succeeding in Brazil and other tropical countries.

In order for REDD+ policies to be strong and effective, however, there are specific factors that must be included to ensure that real emissions reductions are made.

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Reducing illegal logging in the tropics

Photo: Mayumi Terao

Illegal logging and the associated trade of illegally sourced wood products is a clandestine industry that threatens forests and economies alike.

In 2008 Congress passed amendments to the Lacey Act — a century-old law that combats trafficking in illegal plants and wildlife — to close the entire U.S. market to illegally sourced wood. Its full and effective implementation must be a priority.

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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.

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Tropical deforestation and biofuels

When land used for food or feed production is turned over to growing biofuel crops, agriculture has to expand elsewhere.This often results in new deforestation, particularly in the tropics. 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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