The average Western consumer of coffee, chocolate, beef, palm oil and other staples is responsible for cutting down four trees each year, many of them in wildlife-rich tropical forests, research has calculated.
The destruction of forests is one of the main causes of both the climate crisis and the decline in wildlife populations, as natural ecosystems are wiped out for agriculture. The study is the first to fully link high-resolution maps of global deforestation with the wide range of commodities imported by each country around the world.
Research uncovers direct links between consumers and forest loss across the globe. Chocolate consumption in the UK and Germany is a major driver of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the scientists found, while demand for beef and soy in the United States, the European Union and China leads to destruction of forests in Brazil.
Coffee drinkers in the US, Germany and Italy are a major cause of deforestation in central Vietnam, research shows, while demand for wood in China, South Korea and Japan causes tree loss in northern Vietnam.
As a rich and populous country, the United States has a particularly large deforestation footprint, being the leading importer of a wide variety of staples from tropical countries, including fruits and nuts from Guatemala, rubber from Liberia, and timber from Cambodia. China bears the greatest responsibility for deforestation in Malaysia, resulting from imports of palm oil and other agricultural products.
Consumption in the G7 states represents an average loss of four trees per year per person, says research; The United States is above average with five trees lost per capita. In five G7 countries (UK, Japan, Germany, France and Italy), more than 90% of their deforestation footprint was in foreign countries and half of this in tropical nations.
Dr. Nguyen Hoang, from the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, in Kyoto, Japan, led the research and said the detailed maps could help guide actions to stop deforestation.
He added: “Policymakers and businesses can get an idea of which supply chains are driving deforestation. If they know, they can focus on those supply chains to find the specific problems and solutions. “
Dr Chris West from the University of York, UK, who was not part of the research team, said: “Consumption can have large effects abroad, given our dependence on international supply chains. While policy at the government level often focuses on national concerns, the fact remains that if we do not address this international footprint as well, we will continue to generate devastating environmental impacts globally.
“This cannot be tackled by individual nations alone and it is not just a Western problem either,” he said. “The increase in China’s deforestation footprint is particularly striking and speaks to the need for multilateral action.”
The investigation, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, combined high-resolution data on forest loss and its drivers with a global database of international trade relations among 15,000 industrial sectors between 2001 and 2015. This allowed researchers to quantify each country’s deforestation footprint based on the consumption of its population.
Research scientists said: “Despite growing recognition of the severity of deforestation in developing countries, traces of deforestation [in rich nations] have remained virtually unchanged [since 2000]. “China, India and the G7 countries have increased forest cover in their own countries, but they have also increased their deforestation footprint outside their borders.
One limitation of the study, recognized by the researchers, is that the lack of data meant that it could not clearly link consumption to specific areas within countries. “We need a larger scale analysis where possible,” West said.
the Trase Project in which it works allows closer links for some landscapes and, more importantly, the identification of the actors involved in deforestation. The data also failed to separate natural from cultivated forests; the latter are important in countries like Canada.
Paul Morozzo, a Greenpeace UK activist, said: “The report sheds light on overconsumption and shows that individual decisions, for example cutting meat and dairy, are important. But companies are not honest. They are not responsible for the environmental impact of their products and this has to change ”.
Reversing forest loss should be a priority for the upcoming G7 summit, which will be hosted by the UK, he added.
Unfortunately, the idea that Western consumers could plant four trees to offset their deforestation footprint was flawed, West said. “The felling of a tropical forest cannot be compensated by planting a pine tree.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism