Consumption in G7 countries accounts for an annual loss of four trees per person, according to a new study.
Consumption patterns of G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – drive an average loss of four trees per person a year and have encouraged poorer countries to increase their annual deforestation levels, new research has found.
A study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution calculated the deforestation footprints of individual countries, comparing their domestic deforestation to that which they import from abroad through their consumption of foreign-sourced products.
Some of the hotspots of deforestation embodied in international trade are also biodiversity hubs in Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Liberia, Central America and the Amazonian rainforest, the study revealed.
Overall, agriculture and forestry are responsible for 80 percent of global deforestation – mainly driven by demand for commodities like coffee, chocolate, beef, soy, palm oil and timber.
The study’s authors Nguyen Tien Hoang and Keiichiro Kanemoto employed big data to understand how trade and deforestation correlate, using “high-resolution data of forest loss, a spatial classification of deforestation drivers and a detailed global supply chain model” to quantify and map spatiotemporal changes in global deforestation footprints over a fifteen-year period (2001-2015).
They calculated a country’s deforestation footprint from its imported deforestation plus any domestic deforestation. For the study, deforestation is defined as a grid square in which all vegetation above five metres in height has been cleared.
The UK, Germany, France, Italy and Japan all imported over 90 percent of their national deforestation footprints from abroad, of which 46 to 57 percent was from tropical forests.
Major economies have different geographical impacts on deforestation based on the commodities they consumed.
The US, with the most discernible footprint, displayed high demand for timber from Cambodia, rubber from Liberia, fruits and nuts from Guatemala. Beef and soy demand in the US, European Union and China resulted in deforestation in Brazil.
China, South Korea and Japan caused major forest destruction in northern Vietnam for timber, while coffee consumption in the US, Germany and Italy were a significant driver of deforestation in central Vietnam. China bears the largest responsibility for deforestation in Malaysia due to its imports of palm oil.
Japan’s footprint was greater in Africa for agricultural products like cotton, vanilla, and sesame seed, while Germany and the UK’s large African footprint was a result of their demand for cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Notably, China along with India and many developed countries have increased their imported deforestation, while simultaneously experiencing net forest gains domestically.
Forests cover nearly one third of the earth’s land area, and tropical forests are estimated to provide the habitat of anywhere between half to 90 percent of all terrestrial species.
Deforestation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions on the planet and driver behind dwindling wildlife populations. The UN estimates that only around half of the world’s forests are still “relatively intact”.
Furthermore, over half of the world’s tropical rainforests are currently situated in the Amazon Basin, where deforestation has “increased sharply” since 2019 under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, the study noted.
Hoang and Kanemoto indicated that if rich countries want poorer countries to protect their forests, they must incentivise sustainability.
“Our results emphasize the need to reform zero-deforestation policies through strong transnational efforts and by improving supply chain transparency, public-private engagement and financial support for the tropics.”