Harbour in Hamburg

13 April 2021

Trase data highlights EU's role in deforestation

Harbour in Hamburg // Tim Siegert, iStock.com

Trase research is an important part of a new WWF report into tropical deforestation associated with EU agricultural commodity imports

The EU was the second largest importer of agricultural commodities linked to tropical deforestation, according to a report using Trase data published by the WWF European Policy Office. The report provides new insights into the EU’s commodity supply chain aimed at informing discussions over proposed legislation to reduce deforestation in supply chains.

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.

Going beyond basic definitions of deforestation

Advances in supply chain transparency pioneered by Trase are enabling EU policymakers to gain a deeper understanding of the bloc’s supply chain impacts in specific biomes at risk, so they can 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 shows that 23% (4.8 million tonnes) of soy imports from South America into the EU in 2018 came from the Cerrado, while 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 but also grasslands and wetlands.

Tightening the focus

Trase data also shows that a tiny proportion of production regions in the Cerrado, Amazon and Chaco account 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).

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 suggests 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 new and there has not yet been enough time to determine their impact, Trase data provides a powerful baseline for evaluating sectoral performance.

EU policymakers are considering mandatory requirements to address deforestation imports and are due to publish proposals in June. In finalising their plans, they need to ensure the scope goes beyond forests, and as well as due diligence measures, they include targeted support for producer countries that focuses on frontier regions where deforestation is concentrated.

"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, who led Trase’s research for the report