Deforestation emissions make up one-sixth of the carbon footprint of the average EU diet, according to a new study published on 29 March in Global Environmental Change, a peer-reviewed journal (1). The authors traced the source of demand for agricultural commodities to show that international trade, mainly to Europe and China, drove nearly 40 per cent of deforestation emissions between 2010 and 2014.
Tropical deforestation is the second biggest source of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the authors, and drives huge biodiversity losses. In a complementary study published early this month in Environmental Research Letters, the same authors showed that most of this forest loss is driven by the expansion of commercial cropland, pastures, and tree plantations (2). In addition, the commodities most commonly associated with deforestation are cattle meat, forestry products, oil palm, cereals, and soybeans.
Since international demand drives a huge amount of deforestation, the team of researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Germany, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology sought to better understand the link between tropical deforestation and foreign trade.
For the first time, they assessed carbon emissions from deforestation on a large global scale ― covering 106 countries across the tropics and sub-tropics. The researchers also examined two countries, Brazil and Indonesia, on a sub-national scale, including 557 Brazilian micro-regions and 34 Indonesian provinces. Together, the countries were responsible for 40 per cent of the total tropical forest loss between 2001–2014.
The researchers obtained state-of-the-art datasets on tree cover loss and forest carbon stocks and plugged them into existing physics and economic models to trace the emissions through global supply chains to consumers. In label “deforestation” included forest loss due to expanding cropland and pasture and plantation, in addition to palm oil and other short-rotation tree plantations.
The findings show that between 2010–2014, expansion of agriculture and tree plantations into forests across the tropics were associated with around 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year ― more than half of these emissions were associated with cattle and oilseed products (e.g., palm oil and soybeans). Furthermore, they showed emissions were mainly driven by just a few trade flows.
Therefore, the authors suggest “consumption-based accounting should include emissions from deforestation to gain a more complete picture” and suggest that to effectively reduce deforestation in supply chains, future policies should target specific trade relationships and commodities. For example, the Soy Moratorium and zero-deforestation commitments put into place the Brazilian government to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by targeting palm oil, beef, and high-value crops.
Furthermore, several initiatives such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and the New York Declaration on Forests, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals, aim to remove deforestation from supply chains completely by 2020.
In developed countries, deforestation-related carbon emissions linked to consumption often match or exceed emissions from domestic agriculture. Deforestation emissions in EU countries account for around 15 per cent of the total carbon footprint of food consumption. Therefore, to achieve its climate goals, the EU will need to address the environmental impacts of its food imports.
The authors also highlight the need to address domestic demand since at least 50 per cent of deforestation emissions due to agricultural and forestry commodities are intended for domestic use.
(1) Pendrill, F. et al. Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions. Global Environmental Change (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.03.002
(2) Pendrill, F. et al. Deforestation displaced: trade in forest-risk commodities and the prospects for a global forest transition. Environmental Research Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab0d41