Forests in Chiquimula, Guatemala, June 2018.
Photo: ©Pep Bonet/NOOR for FAO


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Greater inequality increases deforestation in Latin America, researchers say. Consequently, more equal distribution of income, wealth and land ownership is not only fairer, it also improves environmental protection.

High inequality leads to more deforestation, while lower inequality improves the long-term protection of remaining tropical forests in Latin America, researchers from the University of Bern, Austria, reported in January 2019.

Tropical deforestation is a major contributor to climate change and loss of local and global ecosystem functions. Latin America accounts for a large share of remaining tropical forests, but also features deforestation rates well above the world average. And, Latin America features some of the highest levels of inequality in the world. The biggest driver of deforestation in Latin America is the expansion of agricultural frontiers to meet the demands of international markets.

The researchers took a look at the interaction between agricultural productivity, farmland expansion at the expense of forests, and various forms of inequality. To this end, they examined three different forms of inequality: income, land, and wealth. Their findings suggest that – in a hypothetical situation of equality – increases in agricultural productivity would promote deforestation in the short-term.

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