A team of researchers led by the Vietnamese economist Nguyen Hoang Tien has for the first time created a deforestation footprint for every country in the world, which is based on the consumption of the population. To this end, the scientists combined previously published information about the loss of forests and the impulses behind it with a global database of national and international trade relationships between 15,000 industrial sectors between 2001 and 2015.
According to the corresponding study, which appeared in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday, the authors resolved the forest loss on a scale of 30 by 30 meters and the underlying driving elements with 10 by 10 kilometers. This overview shows: The consumption of imported food and other consumer goods in wealthy countries leads to massive deforestation in many regions of the world. The import of beef, soy, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, wood and other raw materials puts a particular strain on the forest in the tropical regions of the world.
Coffee and cocoa
The patterns of different countries and goods differ significantly: Cocoa consumption in Germany is therefore a very high risk for the forests in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Wood exports to China, South Korea and Japan affect the forests in northern Vietnam in particular. The coffee imports of the citizens of the USA, Germany, and Italy, on the other hand, endanger the central highlands in Vietnam in particular.
Overall, an average of four trees or 58 square meters of forest in other countries are lost every year per inhabitant of the G7 industrialized countries due to the import of goods. Many of the hardest hit regions are also hot spots in the struggle to conserve biodiversity. These include countries in Southeast Asia and Central America as well as Madagascar, Liberia and the Amazon rainforest.
The deforestation of forests is considered devastating: it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, leads to the loss of habitats and species extinction, and changes water cycles. While forest stocks in many affluent countries have increased or at least remained stable over the past few decades, the trend is reversed in many so-called emerging and developing countries.
Beef, soy and palm oil
One of the main reasons is the increasing world market demand for beef, soy and palm oil, for which forests are cleared and converted into agricultural land to keep or cultivate them. According to the authors, it is becoming increasingly important to examine trade links between countries and the reasons for these losses of elementary ecosystems.
In order for consumers to be able to use the information to change their consumption behavior, the country maps would have to be even more precise, says Hannes Böttcher from the Öko-Institut Berlin. Differences between sustainable supply chains in a country and those that destroy forests have so far not been discernible. It would also make sense to pair the overviews with data on the behavior of actors, for example where licenses for clearing were granted for whom.
“To completely do without coffee and cocoa is certainly not a solution,” adds the Frankfurt biodiversity and climate researcher Thomas Kastner. Rather, it is more important to find ways together with producer countries so that local farmers can make a good living from it, cultivation takes place with the least possible environmental impact and consumption remains within limits.
Other studies showed mixed and contextual results from higher standard supply chain initiatives, points out the Swiss environmental policy expert Janina Grabs. In the EU and Germany, supply chain laws will also strengthen the duty of care for companies with global suppliers. Environmental concerns should also be better protected in this way in the future.