Giving Compass' Take:

• A new report examines how areas within Latin America that have higher rates of inequality, also see higher rates of deforestation. 

• What are some examples of effective efforts that address both inequality and deforestation?

• Read about this group's innovative efforts to stop deforestation. 

The world is losing its tropical forests at an alarming rate, despite increased efforts to save them. A recent study now shows that the best way to tackle deforestation, at least in Latin America, is to reduce inequality.

In a new report on the subject published in January, scientists found a direct correlation between agricultural expansion at the expense of forests and levels of inequality. In other words, higher levels of inequality lead to more deforestation, whereas better equality leads to better forest protections.

"More work needs to be done to increase the sensibility of inequality," says Michele Graziano Ceddia, a professor at the University of Bern's Centre for Development and the Environment. "It's striking how little we focus on this social disease."

One of the major debates among scientists is whether more productive farming efforts can save tropical forests. Some argue that it can, with higher yields per acre resulting in a halt to the expansion of cropland. This is also known as land-sparing, as it is expected to save land for nature. Others argue that it actually does the opposite, as more productive farming methods provide an incentive to expand, and thus cut down more trees. This is also called the Jevons paradox, which says increases in technological efficiency stimulates consumption, and ultimately has a bigger impact on the environment. Economists also refer to this as "rebound" or "backfire."

Ceddia's research says the answer is both—it all depends on the strength of institutions. This includes the environmental policies, rules, and regulations in place, and the political will to implement them.

Previous research has already shown that countries with higher rates of inequality suffer from a number of problems, including weak institutions, Ceddia says. These weak institutions are less likely to implement regulations, including controls on agriculture expansion.

Read the full article about inequality and deforestation by Kimberley Brown at Pacific Standard