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New Research suggests International Trade is a Driver for Deforestation of Tropical Forests

International mechanisms like REDD are meant to work as an incentive for countries to slow down and possibly stop the rates of deforestation of valuable forests land. REDD is implemented in many countries around the world but the effectiveness and fairness of the strategy is debated in the policy and research arena. Is this the most effective way to encourage sustainable forestry? Naturally to stop deforestation one needs to understand it and a fundamental question to be answered is: What are the primary drivers behind deforestation?

Martin Persson and Sabine Henders – both members of the Focali network – together with Thomas Kastner publish a working paper with the Center for Global Development. The paper, which is part of the larger project Why Forests? Why Now? The Science, Economics, and Politics of Tropical Forests and Climate Change, is an initiative that aims to highlight the importance of tropical forests for climate stability and the promotion of sustainable development.

“From having been caused mainly by smallholders and production for local markets, an increasing share of deforestation today is driven by large-scale agricultural production for international markets. More than a third of global deforestation can be tied to rising production of beef, soy, palm oil and wood products,” says Martin Persson.

The article analyses how and where global supply-chains link consumers of agricultural and forest commodities over the world to the destruction of forests in tropical countries. First, their research explores the link between deforestation and four commodities usually traded on the global markets: beef, soybeans, palm oil and wood products.

Second, production of these exported goods is then linked to the final consumer country. The study covers the period 2000-2009 and includes eight case countries with high deforestation rates: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.

In this study Persson, Henders and Kastner conclude that a third of tropical deforestation in 2009 can be traced back to these four commodities in the case countries. The biggest consumers of these agricultural exports are the EU and China. Export markets are the Dominant drivers of deforestation in all case countries, with the exception of Brazil and Bolivia. If one excludes the production of Brazilian beef, which is largely produced for domestic markets, 57% of deforestation is due to export demand.

“Another key trend is that more and more corporations have pledged to rid their supply chains from deforestation. Pushed by environmental organizations and seeing the risks of being associated with environmental destruction, companies like Unilever and McDonalds are pressuring their suppliers to stop expanding production on forest land” Martin Persson points out.

He further concludes that “Today both public and private consumers, be it individuals or corporations, have the possibility to contribute to the protection of tropical forests by holding suppliers accountable for the environmental impacts of their production”.

Read the full paper…