Forests are an essential part of life on earth. They serve a variety of purposes for ecosystems, humans, social groups, economies and the planet. Deforestation and forest degradation pose serious threats to forests and those who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. As a result of this, efforts have been made at the national and international levels to address this challenge by laws and institutions for the implementation of these laws. The problem, however, is that laws enacted to address deforestation exist in various legislations which do not have this environmental challenge as their subject matter. This raises a further issue as some aspects of deforestation are properly regulated while some others are not. This work examines some provisions of laws, international and domestic, that govern forest degradation and deforestation in an attempt to determine the sufficiency of the existing laws to tackle this environmental challenge.
Keywords: Environment, Forests, Deforestation, Forest Degradation.
All life forms depend on land as it plays an important role in their sustenance. Land is an invaluable natural resource and it is therefore important that land itself as well as natural resources within it be preserved as it is capable of bringing immense benefit to organisms and creatures that depend on it. Forests play an essential role in human survival and wellbeing. They serve as a source of raw materials, means of livelihoods, provide security and support biological diversity. Forests perform various services to ecosystems; store and purify drinking water; help mitigate natural disasters such as floods; act as carbon sinks and help in the mitigation of climate change; and help in combating various illnesses through the medicinal plants they house. About 3.9 billion hectares of the earth’s land area is covered by forests. This was estimated to be six billion hectares originally. According to European Forestry Commission, the world loses about 15 million hectares of forests annually. Most modern incidences of deforestation take place in developing countries threatening millions of people who depend on forests for their living and source of income. Nigeria was one of the countries with the largest annual net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2010. Loss of forests/ deforestation is capable of having far-reaching effects on economies and individuals ranging from loss of habitats to poverty. Deforestation is one of the major environmental challenges which the international community as well as state governments have attempted to take proper steps to address. This is manifested by the presence of laws aimed at regulating activities responsible for deforestation as well as steps to recover lost lands and encourage sustainable use of forests and forest resources.
What Is Deforestation and Forest Degradation?
Deforestation mainly occurs from the removal of trees or land cover without replacement. Deforestation is the conversion of forests to an alternative permanent non-forested land use such as agriculture, grazing or urban development. Deforestation is also associated with activities that make use of forests or its resources such as felling of trees or the removal of forests cover for agricultural activities. Deforestation results in desertification affecting the quality of such lands and reducing its productivity. Desertification is the degradation of once viable land in arid, semi-arid and dry-sub-humid regions resulting from climatic variations and human activities. One major driver of deforestation is human activities this may be through population growth, industrialization and economic growth or agricultural activities.
Forest degradation is a process by which the biological wealth of a forest area is permanently diminished by some factor or a combination of factors. It occurs when forest ecosystems lose their capacity to provide important goods and services to people and nature. Forest degradation and deforestation are the biggest threats to forests worldwide. Every second more than one hectare of tropical forests is destroyed or drastically degraded which could threaten the survival of many species and over 1.6 billion people whose livelihood depends on forests.
Causes of Deforestation
According to Mfon, there are three major schools of thought on the causes of deforestation, the first being the impoverishment school who believe the major cause of deforestation is the increase in the number of poor people. The second school, the neoclassical group are of the opinion that deforestation stems from open access property rights, that is, there are many agents with respect to deforestation. The third school is the political ecology school which believe that deforestation is caused by the capitalist entrepreneur. In order to understand the determinants of deforestation, it is necessary to distinguish between the agents and causes of deforestation. The agents of deforestation are persons who carry out forest degrading activities and may constitute farmers (commercial and subsistent), loggers, infrastructure developers and persons who cut down forests. The causes of deforestation, on the other hand, are the forces that motivate agents to clear the forests such as poverty, economic growth and expansion, population growth, among others. The causes of deforestation may be direct or indirect. Direct or proximate causes of deforestation are easy to identify; the indirect causes, which are the major drivers pose a larger difficulty to quantify and address.
The indirect causes of deforestation are visible through the failures in the workings of the economic systems to reflect the true value of the environment. Many functions of tropical forests are not marketed and as such, are ignored in decision making. Financial and social incentives, among others, encourage the continued destruction of forests. Neocolonialism and the continued exploitation of developing economies by industrialized economies contribute to deforestation. Prior to the advent of colonialism, many colonies were self-sufficient; they were later transformed into zones of agriculture export production. Wealthy economies depend on the resources of financially poorer economies. This is worsened by the high levels of corruption and bad leadership present in many of these poor economies and further worsened by the low price of most third word exports being realized in the international market. High rates of population growth and poverty also contribute to deforestation. Deforestation can also be spurred by the economy. Unfavourable fiscal policies, consumerism and development/ land conversion value contribute to forest degradation. Development may produce further capital and incentive to expand and clear more forests. Strong credit markets can increase incomes for farmers leading to the expansion of their farmlands. Lands offering higher rents encourage quicker deforestation as well as higher prices for crops and lower prices for farm inputs.
The Effect of Human Activities on Deforestation
Human activities directly cause deforestation. Increased population growth, predominantly in urban areas, means an increase in human activities responsible for deforestation. Population increase puts pressure on the natural resources found in such areas which are, in most cases, too little to satisfy the needs of the populace. Increase in population means increase in demand for shelter and this translates into clearing for forests for the development of housing projects without replacements. Where population increases, there will be an increased demand for infrastructures needed to support growing population needs. The construction of roads, railways, bridges, airports, buildings and development of business brings growing human population closer to forests. The site for the Ajaokuta steel plant, for instance, claimed 18,390 hectares of Ajaokuta forest reserve in old Kwara State while the Federal Capital Territory claimed approximately 27,330 hectares of forest reserves. There will also be a need to develop economic activities to support the growing population. This may be done through the sale or export of forest resources or the transformation of forest reserves for industrial, recreational or residential development. There will also be an increasing demand placed on the extractive and manufacturing industries. The mining sector is a lucrative one capable of promoting development, support and attract population growth and, consequently, increase deforestation. Petroleum exploration and incidences of oil spillage have accounted for loss of forest covers in the southern part of the country. Mining accounts for about 10 percent of deforestation in Africa.
Growth in Population and Agricultural Activities
Increase in population also means an increase in demand for food products and this puts pressure on forests as they will be cleared to expand farmlands or other unsustainable farming methods which leaves farmlands exhausted of nutrients will be adopted. Agriculture is another major driver of deforestation. The expansion of agricultural land for subsistence or commercial farming, is considered to be the most important direct source of deforestation in tropical countries accounting for about 80% of tropical deforestation worldwide. Commercial famers producing goods for exportation, international trade and supplying to growing cities in developing countries have, in recent years, become the main drivers. Livestock farming contributes to deforestation by overgrazing. Many livestock farmers in Nigeria are nomadic; such migration results in the encroachment of fertile lands by these animals increasing loss of forest cover and desertification.
Liberalization of International Trade and Eco-tourism
The liberalization of international trade policies has increased the magnitude of deforestation. Due to increased global demand, drivers of deforestation have been allowed to be mobile causing the conversion of forests into more profitable uses. Logging and destruction of forest trees for fuel wood collection contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. In Nigerian firewood is a major source of fuel for many homes and puts a lot of pressure on forests and there are no plans for reforestation. The development of tourist attraction sites and resorts exploit forests for profit. Forest reserves that double as tourist attractions suffer from injuries by curious tourists such as trampling and destruction of plants species that can be found there. Eco-tourism and infrastructure development that take place mostly by private players in these wilderness areas are detrimental in terms of attracting people other than tourists also, causing deforestation especially deep in the forest.
Impacts of Deforestation
The effects of deforestation are not only felt on the environment but extends to individuals, social groups, and the economy. Deforestation is capable of contributing to climate change by an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Deforestation contributes to global warming which occurs from increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) leading to net increase in the global mean temperature as forests act as primary terrestrial carbon sinks. It affects wind flows, water vapour flows and the absorption of solar energy thus influencing climate; disrupts normal weather patterns creating hotter and drier weather increasing drought and extreme cases of desertification, crop failures, coastal flooding and displacement of major vegetation regimes.
Deforestation results in desertification which ultimately leads to loss of soil surface due to erosion; poor water quality, dust storms and landslides. Deforestation disrupts the global water cycle. Loss of forest cover reduces the capacity of such land to hold as much water creating a drier climate. This affects the availability of drinking water, fisheries and aquatic habitats, flood control, waterways and dams affected by siltation, and damage to crops and irrigation systems by erosion and turbidity. Deforestation and other land use changes have increased the proportion of the basin subject to erosions and so over the long run has contributed to siltation. Heavy siltation has raised the river bed increasing the risk of flooding especially in Yangtze river basin in China and the Amazon basin.
Loss of Biodiversity
Forests provide natural habitats to numerous species of plants, animals and biological forms. Deforestation destroys biodiversity and habitats for migratory species including endangered ones yet to be categorized. Tropical forests support about two-thirds of all known species and contain 65 percent of the world’s 10,000 endangered species. Biodiversity is necessary as every part of the ecosystem plays an important role in its balance and proper functioning; a large number of plant species serve as sources of food and medicines, while a healthy ecosystem means a better chance for the environment to recover and withstand a range of disasters and the possibility of future generations to experience a balanced and diverse ecosystem.
Deforestation also leads to economic losses of potential profits and employment opportunities that could be derived from forest resources including timber and plants, natural resources and animal species, medicines and cures to various illnesses. In Nigeria, the value of lost forest cover has been estimated at US $750 million annually at 1989 prices.
The immediate social impact of deforestation occurs with the loss of ecological services provided by forests such as erosion prevention, flood control, water treatment, fisheries protection and pollination functions important to many poor persons around the world who rely on natural resources for their everyday survival. Deforestation leads to loss of lives, properties and displacement of persons following its resultant effects. Deforestation contributes to the occurrence of erosions, droughts and floods which are serious challenges capable of bringing about losses and deaths. Deforestation also leads to loss of means of livelihoods and habitats. Deforestation also increases the rate of migration especially to urban areas increasing the pressure on existing urban infrastructure and subsequently, social conflicts in these areas.
International Framework Regulating Deforestation
Deforestation has been identified by the international community as one of the greatest challenges facing sustainable development. The international community has taken active steps to develop legally and non-legally binding instruments establishing regulations to combat land degradation, desertification and drought. Although forests and forest species fall within the scope of certain global and regional legally binding instruments, there has been no global consensus on the need for the conservation of forests. Many existing international instruments only contain certain provisions that aim to regulate activities related to forests, however, a global instrument having forests as its main subject is not available.
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
At the United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, states agreed to a non-binding agreement on forest principles and a general commitment to Agenda 21 to ‘consider the need for and feasibility of all kinds of appropriately internationally agreed arrangements to promote international cooperation’ on forests. This Conference also produced the ‘Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests’ (1992 Forest Principles). This instrument was weak due to the presence of divergent views on the subject matter; it does not internationalize forest issues and runs the theme that forests are a matter of national, rather than international, policies. The Principles have been of little assistance in guiding the sustainable management of forests.
Subsequently, in 1995, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) established an Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) with a two-year mandate and the primary responsibility to implement forest-related decisions taken at the UNCED. This Panel was replaced in 1997 by an ad hoc open-ended Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) responsible for promoting and facilitating the implementation of proposals for action developed by the IPF. This Forum was also mandated to consider international agreements and mechanisms to promote forest management, conservation and sustainable development with the view to developing a legally binding instrument. It was replaced in 2000 by the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) with the mandate to promote the implementation of internationally agreed action on forests at national, regional and global levels. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2006, set out a process for the UNFF to finalize a non-legally binding instrument in 2007. The Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests was adopted in December 2007 with the objective to strengthen political commitment and action at all levels to implement effectively sustainable management of all types of forests; to enhance the contribution of forests to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals on poverty eradication and environmental sustainability; and to provide a framework for national action and international cooperation. The Instrument, in comparison with the 1992 Forest Principles, represents a more clearly drafted reflection of the evolution of an international consensus in response to the challenge of sustainable forest management and arresting forest loss and degradation. Despite the adoption of these principles, the international will to arrive at a legally binding agreement has been increasingly on the wane.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Existing global conventions contain provisions relating to the protection of forest and forest resources. Frameworks regulating the use and conservation of forest resources are derived from these instruments. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) contains is one of such instruments. The Convention aims to achieve a stable level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by reducing human-induced disturbances to the global climate. The Convention recognizes the relationship between forests and climate change as forests act as reservoirs and carbon sinks storing carbon in biomass and soils resulting in greater uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). It commits parties to promote sustainable management, conservation and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of GHGs, including biomass forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.
Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change contains more explicit provisions by obligating industrialized parties to “implement and/or further elaborate policies and measures…such…as promotion of sustainable forest management policies, afforestation and reforestation”. Industrialized parties may adopt certain human-induced activities in land-use and forestry that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere such as afforestation, reforestation and tackling deforestation to offset their emission targets.
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The Convention on Biological Diversity which aims ensuring at the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, extends its protection to forests as they house a large part of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. The third Conference of Parties (COP-3) under the Convention adopted the Work Programme for Forest Biological Diversity in 1996 focusing on the research, cooperation and development of technologies necessary for the conservation and sustainable use of forest biological diversity of all types of forests. In 1998, COP-4 established an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Forest Biological Diversity to suggest actions for the conservation and sustainable use of forest biological diversity among others.
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/ or Desertification, particularly in Africa (UNCCD)
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/ or Desertification, particularly in Africa aims at combating desertification, mitigating the effects of drought and contributing to sustainable development through long-term strategies that focus on improved productivity of land and the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources, leading to improved living conditions for people. Forests protection is one of the key themes of this Convention as forests plays a significant role in the mitigation of the effects of drought and preventing desertification. Although this Convention is one of the most important regarding the protection of forests, it is seen as occupying a weak position in comparison with the other Conventions that were adopted as a result of the UNCED in Rio de Janeiro this is because it is seen as a Convention for ‘affected’ countries only. The UNCCD is also said to be subordinate to other sectors such as agriculture, water and energy. International commentators reveal one problem of the Convention being “more about monitoring, reporting and awareness-raising without actual targets, so this undermines the seriousness with which it is taken”. This position reveals that there is a need to develop real targets and encourage practical discussions on outcomes and impacts.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora also contains provisions which can be extended to the protection of forest and forest resources. The aim of the Convention is to protect species threatened with extinction, which are, or may be affected by trade through a system of listing, licensing and import/ export permits. As at 2017, roughly 30,000 plant species and 5,800 animal species were stated as being protected by CITES and listed in the three CITES Appendices. However, only 16 species have been listed, mainly species used for timber. Listing helps draw attention to the need to take action for better management and conservation but does not actually conserve species.
International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) 2006
The first International Tropical Timber Agreement was adopted in 1983 as a commodity agreement to facilitate the trade in tropical timber and ensure exports from sustainable sources. The most recent of this Agreement is the ITTA 2006 which aims ‘to promote the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed sources and legally harvested forests and promote the sustainable management of timber’. ITTA 2006 also specifically refers to promoting better understanding of the contribution of non-timber forest products and environmental services to the sustainable management of tropical forests, and encouraging members to recognize the role of forest-dependent indigenous and local communities in achieving sustainable forest management.
Domestic Laws Regulating Deforestation
At the national level, efforts made by the Nigerian government to address deforestation and promote forest resources conservation are carried out by the designation of certain areas as protected forests, laws and public participation. Section 15 of the Forest Law of Bayelsa State  empowers the Minister of Agriculture to constitute lands which appears to him that the forest growth on such land be protected as a forest reserve. There are about 445 forest reserves in Nigeria spanning 9,652,000 hectares in Nigeria. The local people have developed ancient habits and rules that are used directly or indirectly to regulate exploitation and ensure the conservation of forests. The dedication of forests to deities as sacred prevented them from exploitation. In light of civilization and modern day practices, many of traditional means of conservation have been done away with. Many existing legislations contain provisions that are relevant to the protection of forests.
Land Use Act
The Act contains relevant provisions towards the control and ownership of land vesting ownership, management and control of lands in each state of the federation of Nigeria in the Governor who is to hold it in trust and administer it for the benefit of all Nigerians. Land ownership often dictates the right to important resources found on such land. The Governor also has the power to grant and revoke rights of occupancy, however, such revocation must be for an overriding interest of the public.The Governor’s consent is also required before any right of occupancy can be alienated by Sections 21 and 22.
National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act
The Act establishes the National Environmental Standards regulatory and Enforcement Agency (NESRA) responsible for regulating and enforcing environmental standards, regulations, laws, policies and guidelines in Nigeria under Section 1. Section 26 of the Act empowers the Agency to make regulations and standards for the protection and enhancement of the quality of land resources. Section 8(1) (k) of the Act empowers the Agency to make and review regulations on deforestation and bush burning. Pursuant to this power, the Agency has made the National Environmental (Control of Bush, Forest Fire and Open Burning) Regulations as well as the National Environmental (Desertification Control and Drought Mitigation) Regulations containing obligations to utilize best practices and environmental management plans to address forest protection.
Environmental Impact Assessment Act
The Act requires that an environmental impact assessment establishing the effects any proposed project may have on the environment must be carried out before such projects are undertaken. This is to protect lands from the environmental effects of industrial and development activities. This assessment must contain a description of potential environmental impact and alternatives and possible mitigation measures to these impacts. Where the project is likely to result in unjustifiable, immitigable and significant adverse environmental effects, the Agency (NESRA) will not permit such to be carried out.
Forest Act 1937
The Forest Act of 1937 applicable to the Federal Capital Territory gives power to constitute a land as a forest reserve and de-reserve such land as a forest; de-reservation occurs more frequently. The management and control of forests is in the hands of State Governments leaving the Federal Department of Forestry with monitoring functions and no executive functions in the management of forest reserves and forest lands.
Adequacy of Laws Addressing Deforestation
National laws related to forest conservation in Nigeria are piecemeal, ineffective and do not directly or adequately provide for forest protection. Many of these laws do not take into consideration present realities relating to forest conservation. Some of these laws do not also address the conservation requirements of local people. Majority of the forestry laws simply give the Minister or local authority power to designate lands as forest reserves and make regulations prohibiting extraction of resources from such named forest reserves. Till date there is no National Forestry Act in Nigeria. A National Forestry Act is necessary to cumulate all forest conservation efforts in Nigeria and make for easier co-ordination, statistics and data generation as well as provide a more effective monitoring and evaluation scheme. A singular legislature addressing forest conservation and protection will address lacunas in existing laws and harmonize forest conservation practices by bringing each under a singular legislation. Public participation is a necessity for the actualization of conservation schemes. Conservation plans, for instance those involving the use of parks and designation of forest reserve areas must take into consideration the needs of all relevant stakeholders, including the needs of the community where they will be situated to ensure public reception and participation in the conservation efforts employed. The Approved National Forest Policy 2006 recognized the role of the community, Non-Governmental Organizations and Community Based Organizations in the protection of forest reserves. The policy also contains plans for funding and support for the implementation of its contents; this is majorly to be derived from the government and the community promoted self-help projects. Although the aims of this policy are laudable, the challenge lies with its implementation. Forest management policies and forest conservation laws are rarely properly implemented. Modern initiatives such as Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) are concepts which can be used to manage forest reserves and obtain maximum benefit to Nigerian forests.
The fragmented nature of instruments and legislations relating to forest protection and conservation leaves room for many significant gaps which inhibits efforts aimed at combating deforestation. Some forest functions, such as those related to water and soil, especially within treaty frameworks, are barely regulated while those regulating fuelwood provision are regulated but without compliance in practice. The problem of overlaps arises where there are many regulations governing a particular subject matter. Where there are numerous laws regulating a particular issue which are not identical, these diverse views are capable of leading to conflicts. This absence of co-ordination arises in the regulation of forest-related issues. Coordination at the national level is also difficult and inadequate as various ministries are responsible for the implementation of the different laws that exist. A global forest convention has many potential benefits. It would serve as proof that the governments across the world are seriously committed and concerned about forest-related issues, especially deforestation and increase the support and scope of other environmental conventions.  Existing forest-related legislations which are fragmented would be integrated to remove gas, overlaps and uncertainties; such a global convention will be able to provide clarity to how the much debated and hard principles of international environmental law- sovereignty, the precautionary principle, common but differentiated responsibility, should be applied to forests. It would ultimately enhance strategic leadership on forests.
Deforestation is a serious environmental challenge which governments around the globe are taking efforts to combat. Due to the disastrous effects it is capable of having, laws regulating activities contributing to or responsible for deforestation have been passed. The issue, however, lies in the fact that the laws regulating this issue are found in several laws which do not specifically address deforestation. Most of these laws govern completely different subject matters to which forest conservation plays a role. There is no law, at the national and international level, which specifically address deforestation. The resultant effect is the existence of forest conservation laws in bits and pieces derived from other legislations. In the absence of general consensus to produce a global convention or national legislation combating deforestation certain options can be implemented to cover these gaps. Existing regulations can be amended and extended to cover aspects of forest protection and sustainable use not properly regulated. Such expansion can be done by the legislature or the judiciary when interpreting provisions of laws related to forest resources conservation. At the international level, a piecemeal approach may be adopted. A specific “under regulated” function of forests can be singled out and made the subject of an agreement, or of a non-legally binding instrument, which could be more politically convenient to participating States. This is how the recreational function of forests is regulated at present.
About the Author
Agbonyehemen Favour Ofure is a 500 Level Law Student, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti; [email protected]
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Ibid, Article 2.
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 Ibid, Article 1
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 Ibid, Section 33, 37
 See Sections 4 and 45, Forestry Act 1937 (n51).
 Federal Ministry of Environment,” National Forest Policy, 2006”, (2006), <http://www.fao.org/forestry/15148-0c4acebeb8e7e45af360ec63fcc4c1678.pdf> accessed 2 February 2020.
 P. Mfon (n7); A. T. Ogundele (n20)
 M. Funder et al., “Reshaping Conservation: The Social Dynamics of Participatory Mointoring in Tanzania’s Community-Managed Forests”, (2013), Conservation and Society, 11(3): 218-232, <http://www.conservationandsociety.org/article.asp> accessed 2 February 2020.
 B. S. Ruis (n58).
Author: ABUAD Law Review
The ABUAD Law Review (ALR), is a Journal published by the Afe Babalola University Law Students’ Society. It aim is to contribute to law and policy reform, not just in Nigeria, but the world at large by fostering rapid dissemination of preliminary research results by students, legal practitioners, teaching and research scholars.