Deforestation displaced: trade in forest-risk commodities and the prospects for a global forest transition

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Florence Pendrill1,4, U Martin Persson1,4, Javier Godar2 and Thomas Kastner3

Published 1 May 2019 • © 2019 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd
Environmental Research LettersVolume 14Number 5Focus on Leakage: Informing Land-Use Governance in a Tele-Coupled WorldDownloadArticle PDFDownloadArticle ePubFiguresReferencesDownload PDFDownload ePub

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Abstract

While many developed countries are increasing their forest cover, deforestation is still rife in the tropics and subtropics. With international trade in forest-risk commodities on the rise, it is becoming increasingly important to consider between-country trade linkages in assessing the drivers of—and possible connections between—forest loss and gain across countries. Previous studies have shown that countries that have undergone a forest transition (and are now increasing their forest cover) tend to displace land use outside their borders. However, the lack of comprehensive data on deforestation drivers implies that it has not been possible to ascertain whether this has accelerated forest loss in sourcing countries. To remedy this, we present a land-balance model that quantifies deforestation embodied in the production of agricultural and forestry commodities at the country level across the tropics and subtropics, subsequently tracing embodied deforestation to countries of apparent consumption using a physical, country-to-country trade model. We find that in the period 2005–2013, 62% (5.5 Mha yr−1) of forest loss could be attributed to expanding commercial cropland, pastures, and tree plantations. The commodity groups most commonly associated with deforestation were cattle meat, forestry products, oil palm, cereals, and soybeans, though the variation between countries and regions was large. A large (26%) and slightly increasing share of deforestation was attributed to international demand, the bulk of which (87%) was exported to countries that either exhibit decreasing deforestation rates or increasing forest cover (late- or post-forest transition countries), particularly in Europe and Asia (China, India, and Russia). About a third of the net forest gains in post-forest transition countries was in this way offset by imports of commodities causing deforestation elsewhere, suggesting that achieving a global forest transition will be substantially more challenging than achieving national or regional ones.

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