Felling Forests from Afar: Quantifying Deforestation Driven by Agricultural Expansion and International Trade
Licentiate thesis, 2019
Deforestation is a major source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and the largest threat to terrestrial biodiversity. Most forest loss is due to the expansion of agricultural land use increasingly driven by international demand for food, fuel and fibre. However, there is still limited understanding of the extent to which different agricultural commodities are contributing to deforestation. It has therefore also been difficult to evaluate the role of international trade in driving deforestation. This dissertation aims at quantifying the agricultural drivers of tropical deforestation (Papers I and II) and the associated carbon emissions (Paper III). It further assesses the role of international trade, by following the agricultural commodities with embodied deforestation through international supply chains using trade models (Papers II and III). The results show that a few commodity types, primarily cattle meat and oilseed products, account for a large part of tropical deforestation. Much (26–39%) of the embodied deforestation and concomitant emissions were found to be associated with international demand (from products and services). Looking closer at the countries that import embodied deforestation, Paper II finds that many countries that are increasing their forest cover at home, import products associated with deforestation elsewhere, thereby offsetting about a third of their forest gains. Paper III finds that imports of embodied deforestation emissions for many developed countries are similar in size to their national agricultural emissions amounting, e.g., for the EU, to around 15% of the carbon footprint of an average diet. Put together, the results add to the evidence that combating deforestation can benefit from complementing domestic policies with measures that target international demand. The results also indicate that tackling deforestation and its associated impacts at the global level is probably even more challenging than at the national level, although international trade can also provide efficiency gains by optimising land use globally.