Consumption of beef, palm oil, and soy is causing major deforestation in rainforest areas, especially in Brazil and Indonesia, which also affects climate change.
Palm oil in margarine and other consumer products has long been known to accelerate deforestation in countries like Brazil and Indonesia. Martin Persson, a researcher at Chalmers University in Sweden, and an international research team analyzed the extent to which demand for raw materials such as palm oil, beef, and soy products drives tree felling.
The study published last week found that between 29 and 39 percent of the carbon dioxide released by deforestation is caused by international trade. Forest clearing is carried out to make room for meadows and agricultural areas and products that are mainly consumed abroad.
In many rich countries, write the authors of that study, emissions from deforestation abroad and imports are even higher than emissions from domestic agriculture. This is a relevant aspect when it comes to measuring CO2 emissions, that is, determining who is the real responsible.
"The UN allows countries to report their emissions based on where they are produced," says Jonas Busch, chief economist at the Earth Innovation Institute. In Germany, for example, emissions from domestic grape production are part of the national CO2 balance, but not the CO2 footprint of margarine, which was produced, for example, with palm oil imported from Indonesia.
Global logging, the world's second largest source of greenhouse gases
The destruction of global forests, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, is a major obstacle in the fight against climate change. According to experts, complex distribution chains exacerbate the problem by creating a great distance between the consumer and the damage caused by the production of consumer goods.
To assess the carbon footprint of forest clearing by country and commodity, the Swedish research team used commercial data in addition to satellite images showing changes in land use from 2010 to 2014. In this method, the loss of forest space due to non-agricultural activities, such as mining, urbanization or natural forest fires, responsible for around 40 percent of deforestation.
Who is responsible?
"You could say that the EU is only a small part of the problem," said Persson, referring to the overall high proportion of goods consumed in the country of origin. Four raw materials account for most of the emissions caused by deforestation: wood, beef, soy, and palm oil. In Indonesia and Brazil, the fourth and fifth most populous countries in the world, palm oil and beef have large national markets.
Contrary to traditional methods of accounting for carbon dioxide, the researchers estimated that about one sixth of the CO2 released into the atmosphere from the typical European diet is associated with deforestation in the tropics and imported raw materials. "This data surprised me," Persson acknowledged. "Yes, we import a lot of food, but most of the food we eat in the EU is produced locally."
Brazil exported a record 1.64 million tonnes of beef last year, according to the Brazilian Meat Exporters Association, representing an increase of 1.48 million tonnes compared to 2017. Indonesia, for its Part of it is the world's largest producer of palm oil.
Loss of habitat and flooding
Along with CO2 emissions, the burning and clearing of forests can also cause displacement, habitat loss and flooding. In Brazil, for example, indigenous lands were expropriated to build huge farms. According to one study, in Indonesia and Malaysia, more than 100,000 orangutans have been killed since 1999.
The palm oil, soybean and beef markets are in the hands of a handful of multinationals, some of which are located in Europe and the United States. "If the EU were to pressure them to change their production, that could have an effect on other countries," says Persson.
Darmin Nasution, Indonesia's coordinating minister for the economy, told a press conference in Brussels this month that it was "ironic" that the EU, which has cut a much larger proportion of its forests, was giving advice to tree-rich countries. on forest management.
Source: Sustainable Week