Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions
Journal article, 2019
Deforestation, the second largest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, is largely driven by expanding forestry and agriculture. However, despite agricultural expansion being increasingly driven by foreign demand, the links between deforestation and foreign demand for agricultural commodities have only been partially mapped. Here we present a pan-tropical quantification of carbon emissions from deforestation associated with the expansion of agriculture and forest plantations, and trace embodied emissions through global supply chains to consumers. We find that in the period 2010–2014, expansion of agriculture and tree plantations into forests across the tropics was associated with net emissions of approximately 2.6 gigatonnes carbon dioxide per year. Cattle and oilseed products account for over half of these emissions. Europe and China are major importers, and for many developed countries, deforestation emissions embodied in imports rival or exceed emissions from domestic agriculture. Depending on the trade model used, 29–39% of deforestation-related emissions were driven by international trade. This is substantially higher than the share of fossil carbon emissions embodied in trade, indicating that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change need to consider the role of international demand in driving deforestation. Additionally, we find that deforestation emissions are similar to, or larger than, other emissions in the carbon footprint of key forest-risk commodities. Similarly, deforestation emissions constitute a substantial share (˜15%) of the total carbon footprint of food consumption in EU countries. This highlights the need for consumption-based accounts to include emissions from deforestation, and for the implementation of policy measures that cross these international supply-chains if deforestation emissions are to be effectively reduced.