April 08, 2013

Amazon deforestation increasingly driven by consumption in China, Russia, Europe

2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions or 30 percent of the carbon associated with deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2000 and 2010 was effectively exported in the form of beef products and soy, finds a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The research underscores the rising role that global trade plays in driving tropical deforestation.

The study, led by Jonas Karstensen of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway, looked at carbon emissions from beef and soy production in the Brazilian Amazon. It then calculated the share of these commodities that was exported to overseas markets.

The research found that Brazilian consumption is responsible for the vast majority of emissions from its own deforestation: 85 percent of emissions from in Brazilian beef products and 50 percent of emissions in soy products were driven by domestic consumption between 1990 and 2010. However over the past decade, the share of emissions attributable to commodity exports has increased sharply, with more Brazilian products being exported to China and Russia.

"With a consumption perspective, the share of responsibility for deforestation is divided among the global consumers. What, in one perspective is Brazil's problem, is now a global problem" said Karstensen in a statement. "Particularly in the last decade, greater imports by emerging markets and industrialized countries have led to an increasing share of exported emissions from Brazil."

According to the paper, 29 percent of emissions from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon were due to soybean production and 71 percent were due to cattle ranching over the past decade. But emissions from soybeans fell substantially during the second half of the 2000s, possibly a partial consequence of a soy producer moratorium on rainforest conversion that was signed in 2006 after a damaging Greenpeace campaign. Overall emissions from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon are declining in step with the falling rate of forest clearance, although rates outside the Brazilian Amazon — especially in Bolivia and Peru — appear to be on the rise, possibly as a consequence of agricultural development shifting across borders.

The paper adds to a growing body of research that shows a major shift in global drivers of deforestation from subsistence agriculture to industrial commodity production. The trend indicates that efforts to curb deforestation — like the nascent Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD)+ program — will have to address urban consumption to be effective. Focusing solely on small-holder agriculture will fail to reduce emissions from deforestation.

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