Deforestation, the second largest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, is largely driven by expanding forestry and agriculture. This agricultural expansion is increasingly driven by foreign demand. However, the links between deforestation and foreign demand have only been partially mapped.

This open-access paper presents a quantification of carbon emissions from agriculture- and forestry-related deforestation across the tropics. It then traces these emissions embodied in traded commodities through global supply chains to the consumers.

The analysis shows that in the period 2010–2014, expansion of agriculture and forestry plantations into tropical forests around the world was associated with net emissions of approximately 2.6 gigatonnes CO2 per year. Cattle and oilseed products (including soy and palm oil) account for over half of these emissions.

Depending on the trade model used, between 29% and 39% of deforestation-related emissions in the period 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.

Europe and China are major importers of these products, and for many developed countries, deforestation emissions embodied in imports rival or exceed emissions from domestic agriculture. Additionally, the analysis finds that deforestation-related emissions are similar to, or larger than, other emissions in the carbon footprint of key forest-risk commodities. Similarly, deforestation emissions constitute around one-sixth (˜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 policy measures that span these international supply-chains, if deforestation emissions are to be effectively reduced.

The work was partly funded through the PRINCE project.