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Trase data reveal the EU’s role in deforestation

The EU is the second-largest importer of agricultural commodities linked to tropical deforestation, according to a report published today by the European Policy Office of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The report uses SEI’s Trase tool and data to generate new insights about the links between the EU’s commodity supply chains and deforestation in key world regions.

Michael Lathuillière, Toby Gardner, Karen Brandon / Published on 14 April 2021
Deforestation in the Amazon caused by the expansion of agricultural areas. Mato Grosso in Brazil.

Deforestation in the Amazon caused by the expansion of agricultural areas. Mato Grosso in Brazil. Photo: Lucas Ninno / Getty Images.

The WWF report, “Stepping up? The continuing impact of EU consumption on nature worldwide“, documents the extent of the connections between the EU’s imports and tropical deforestation. The report aims to inform legislation now being considered by policymakers to address deforestation impacts of the EU’s imports and global supply networks.

Key findings show:

  • In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of tropical deforestation associated with international trade, totalling 203,000 hectares and 116 million tonnes of carbon – more than India (9%), the US (7%) and Japan (5%), and exceeded only by China (24%).
  • Between 2005-2017, soy, palm oil and beef were the commodities with the largest embedded tropical deforestation imported into the EU, followed by wood products, cocoa and coffee.
  • During this period, the largest EU economies – Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Poland – were responsible for 80% of the EU’s embedded deforestation through their use of forest-risk commodities.

Deforestation linked to international trade

Deforestation linked to international trade.

Though deforestation associated with EU imports fell by around 40% between 2005 and 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of deforestation linked to international trade in 2017 (Pendrill et al, 2020).

Going beyond basic definitions of deforestation

As the report demonstrates, the advances in supply chain transparency pioneered by the Trase tool shed new light on the links between imports and deforestation.

Trase can highlight close connections between imports of commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil, and the risk of deforestation in tropical biomes and conversion of other ecosystems, which in turn can promote targeted EU action to reduce its impact on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Michael Lathuillière, SEI Senior Research Fellow who led the Trase research for the report.

The analysis made possible by the tool enable EU policymakers to gain a deeper understanding of the bloc’s supply chain impacts in specific biomes at risk. As a result, they have new information to help design more effective responses.

For instance, while deforestation in the Amazon gets most attention, the greatest impacts of EU consumption are concentrated in the Cerrado, a uniquely biodiverse savannah ecosystem in Brazil where imports of both soy and beef have driven large-scale land conversion.

Trase data show that 23% (4.8 million tonnes) of soy imports from South America into the EU in 2018 came from the Cerrado; by contrast, the Atlantic Forest accounted for 22% (4.5Mt), the Amazon 11% (2.2Mt) and the Chaco 4% (0.76Mt). Beef imports in 2017 came from the Cerrado (37%, 70,000 tonnes), the Atlantic Forest (16%, 30,000 tonnes), the Amazon (7%, 13,880 tonnes) and the Chaco (3%, 7,500 tonnes).

It is therefore important that legislation to address commodity-driven deforestation also include the conversion of non-forest ecosystems, including savannahs, grasslands and wetlands.

Tightening the focus

Trase data also show that a tiny proportion of production regions in the Cerrado, Amazon and Chaco accounts for most of the problem. For soy, 80% of the land conversion attributed to EU imports occurs in less than 2% of localities (38 from a total of 2,456 localities that produce soy in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay). For beef, 80% of the deforestation and conversion attributed to EU imports occurs in 3.5% of localities (90 from a total of 2,547 localities in Brazil and Paraguay).

Concentration of tropical deforestation embedded in soy and beef

Sourcing patterns for soy (2016) and beef (2017). Credit: Trase Earth.

Concentration of tropical deforestation and conversion embedded in soy (2016) and beef (2017). Credit: Trase Earth.

This insight highlights the potential for the EU to work with producer countries to address the underlying drivers of deforestation and land conversion in specific localities.

Zero-deforestation commitments in the spotlight

Trase data suggest that private-sector commitments to reduce deforestation in commodity supply chains have yet to deliver the desired impact.

The Amazon Soy Moratorium, adopted in 2006, contributed to a dramatic reduction in deforestation related to soy production in the Brazilian Amazon. By 2014, direct deforestation for soy had decreased to about 1% of expansion in the Amazon biome.

But for soy from the Cerrado, zero-deforestation commitments have not yet significantly reduced conversion linked to the production of exported agricultural commodities. While many of these commitments are too new for their impacts to have been determined, Trase data provide a powerful baseline for evaluating sectoral performance.

Relative deforestation risk

Relative deforestation risk / Trase

There is no observed difference between companies with a zero-deforestation commitment (green) than for those without (red) in levels of deforestation and ecosystem conversion caused per 1,000 tonnes of soy sourced in the Cerrado for import into the EU28 (2016). Credit: Trase Earth.

EU policymakers are considering mandatory requirements to address deforestation-related imports, and they are due to publish proposals in June. The findings of the report underscore the need to ensure that the scope goes beyond forests. Final plans should include due diligence measures and targeted support for producer countries that focuses on frontier regions where deforestation is concentrated.

About Trase

Trase is a science-based supply chain transparency initiative, built around an open-access information platform. Trase is a partnership between SEI and Global Canopy. It uses a unique approach to mapping agricultural supply chains that combines customs, shipping, tax, logistics and other data to connect regions of production, via trading companies to countries of import.

Design and development by Soapbox.