Trading forests: land-use change and carbon emissions embodied in production and exports of forest-risk commodities
Production of commercial agricultural commodities for domestic and foreign markets is increasingly driving land clearing in tropical regions, creating links and feedback effects between geographically separated consumption and production locations. Such teleconnections are commonly studied through calculating consumption footprints and quantifying environmental impacts embodied in trade flows, e.g., virtual water and land, biomass, or greenhouse gas emissions. The extent to which land-use change (LUC) and associated carbon emissions are embodied in the production and export of agricultural commodities has been less studied. Here we quantify tropical deforestation area and carbon emissions from LUC induced by the production and the export of four commodities (beef, soybeans, palm oil, and wood products) in seven countries with high deforestation rates (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea). We show that in the period 2000-2011, the production of the four analyzed commodities in our seven case countries was responsible for 40% of total tropical deforestation and resulting carbon losses. Over a third of these impacts was embodied in exports in 2011, up from a fifth in 2000. This trend highlights the growing influence of global markets in deforestation dynamics. Main flows of embodied LUC are Latin American beef and soybean exports to markets in Europe, China, the former Soviet bloc, the Middle East and Northern Africa, whereas embodied emission flows are dominated by Southeast Asian exports of palm oil and wood products to consumers in China, India and the rest of Asia, as well as to the European Union. Our findings illustrate the growing role that global consumers play in tropical LUC trajectories and highlight the need for demand-side policies covering whole supply chains. We also discuss the limitations of such demand-side measures and call for a combination of supply- and demand-side policies to effectively limit tropical deforestation, along with research into the interactions of different types of policy interventions.