08 July 2013

European consumption impacts world forests

Agricultural products imported to Europe accounted for more than one-third of global deforestation associated with international agricultural trade, according to a new report prepared by a European consortium including IIASA, and published by the European Commission.

deforestation © Xicoputini | Dreamstime.com

deforestation © Xicoputini | Dreamstime.com

From 1990 to 2008, 1.3 million square kilometers of forest was cleared to make way for agriculture, the report shows. While most of this deforestation occurred in South America, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and the majority of agricultural products causing deforestation were consumed in the countries of origin, goods consumed in the EU contributed to approximately 90,000 square kilometers of lost forestland—about 7% of the global deforestation resulting from agricultural expansion during this period, and up to 10% if all finally processed products and all consumption sectors—such as textiles, pharmaceuticals, and service sectors—are added on.

“This study shows that EU consumption involves large quantities of products that cause deforestation around the world,” says IIASA’s Günther Fischer, who led IIASA’s contribution to the study.  Fischer and colleagues used their LANDFLOW model to estimate how deforestation is connected to agricultural production in each country and how it relates to EU consumption via international trade.

The study showed that Europe’s biggest impact on deforestation came from the import of livestock feed from South America. These crops, mainly soybeans, are used to feed animals for meat produced in Europe. Other crops imported that have contributed to deforestation include palm oil, cocoa, coffee and natural rubber.

The report recommends a number of policies to help reduce deforestation, including raising public awareness, increasing certification efforts, promoting more local production of feed, and lowering of overall meat consumption. 



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Last edited: 08 July 2013

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Günther Fischer

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International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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