Jan. 17 (UPI) -- New data analysis shows the relationship between economic growth and deforestation resembles half of a Kuznets curve. In other words, economic growth in less developed countries appears to drive deforestation.
The environmental Kuznets curve describes the environmental impact of economic growth in differently sized economies. In theory, the curve suggests pollution and other environmental problems will rise as less developed economies grow. But at a certain point, a growing economy matures enough that the environmental consequences of economic growth slow and begin to reverse.
Researchers in Laxenburg, Austria, looked at forest cover and deforestation rates, as well as economic data from 130 different countries.
"This study was like a large-scale, natural experiment, which in economics is extremely rare," study leader Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA, said in a news release. "For the first time, we were able to empirically assess this effect in a convincing fashion, making use of natural borders."
The data revealed only half a curve. Economic growth drives deforestation in developing nations, but has no consistent impact on forest health among developed countries.
The findings -- detailed in the journal Scientific Reports -- are problematic, as many of the world's least developed economies boast some of the largest swaths of forest.
"Africa is home to some of the world's largest tracts of remaining undisturbed forests," said IIASA researcher Ian McCallum. "Factors that keep deforestation in check in other tropical regions of the world, like good governance, monitoring systems, and peace, are lacking in much of tropical Africa."
Scientists say more needs to be done to mitigate the impact of economic development on forests.
"It's important to keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to deforestation," IIASA researcher Ping Yowargana said. "Issues like education, ease of doing business, and corruption are vital to understand the bigger picture -- and to find solutions that can lead to both decreased poverty along with forest preservation."