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Trase at COP28: Trade practices must change to end emissions from deforestation

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Trase at COP28: Trade practices must change to end emissions from deforestation

A year of record heatwaves makes it clear that humanity can ill afford any more delay – every opportunity for cutting emissions must be taken. World leaders are gathering at the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates to take stock of progress towards cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Written by Carina Mueller, Toby Gardner, Jolene Tan and Ylva Rylander.

Carina Mueller, Toby Gardner, Ylva Rylander, / Published on 6 December 2023

Perspective contact

Ylva Rylander /

While the value of forests as carbon stores and sinks is widely recognised, and forest protection is an increasingly visible feature of the annual COP agenda, it is too often thought of as an issue mainly for forest-rich countries. Yet, global commodity trade has a vital role in driving agricultural expansion – which means countries, companies and consumers far from any rainforest also hold the keys to halting it.

Globally, almost all tropical deforestation is directly or indirectly linked to agricultural expansion. Emissions result when carbon-rich forest, wooded savannah, peatlands and other natural ecosystems are cleared to raise livestock and grow crops and timber. The drainage of peatland for agricultural cultivation also generates emissions and can turn large areas of land into tinderboxes, highly vulnerable to fire.

Just how much of these emissions can be linked to products traded and sold thousands of miles from the expansion frontier?

Soybean farm in Brazil.

Soybean farm in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

Photo: Lucas Ninno / Getty Images.

New research by Trase puts a number on this by looking at five key commodities (beef, soy, palm oil, wood pulp and cocoa) from just six producing countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia). The forest and peat loss linked to the expansion of these commodities generates more greenhouse gas emissions each year than the entire German economy (701 million tonnes CO2 equivalents). Exports of these commodities represent 40% of that total – generating yearly emissions that rival Spain’s (282 million tonnes CO2 equivalents).

Reducing emissions through effective supply chain action

The potential for reducing these emissions through effective supply chain action by importing companies and countries is significant. If implemented effectively, legislation requiring due diligence on commodity imports and their links to deforestation, such as the EU’s new deforestation regulation, could be a major step in the right direction. Moreover, such measures will drive advances in traceability, identification and reporting systems across commodity-producing sectors. These improvements can offer valuable insights for the design and implementation of regulations in other importing countries and markets, while also lowering the entry cost for these countries to adopt similar measures.

Highly promising conditions for countries to collaborate

Action by import countries is not limited to Europe. China’s exposure to deforestation and peat-related emissions through its imports is also substantial, and recent signs suggest a growing interest by some Chinese stakeholders in addressing imported deforestation. In November, China’s state-owned and largest food manufacturer and trader (COFCO), signed a US$30 million purchase order for soy from Brazil, which incorporated a ‘deforestation- and conversion-free’ clause for the first time. Clearer policy frameworks are needed to scale up such initiatives and drive systemic change.

Many countries are importing the same commodities, via the same trading companies, from the same producing countries – and often the same deforestation hotspots. These are highly promising conditions for countries to collaborate on requiring importers to include action on deforestation at the heart of their sourcing practices, including through legislative and policy frameworks.

Importing markets can also act jointly to provide finance and technical support for producer countries. Together, they can assist producer countries in strengthening implementation of their land-use frameworks, providing appropriate incentives to stakeholders, and better monitoring of forest protection.

There are solutions – now politicians and business have to bring the will.


Carina Mueller
Carina Mueller

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Toby Gardner
Toby Gardner

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Ylva Rylander
Ylva Rylander

Communications and Impact Officer


SEI Headquarters

Jolene Tan, Trase Communications Lead (external)

Jolene Tan

Trase Communications Lead (external)

Further information

About Trase

Trase is a data-driven transparency initiative that maps the international trade and financing of agricultural commodities, providing tools that enable companies, financial institutions and governments to address tropical deforestation. This not-for-profit partnership was founded in 2015 by Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy.

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