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Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forest land into other uses. The main drivers  of worldwide deforestation are agricultural expansion, logging, expansion of urban areas, and natural or human-induced disasters (e.g. wildfire).

As part of its strategy to address climate change and global biodiversity loss, also responding to the request of the European Parliament, the European Commission (EC) launched a comprehensive study in 2011 to assess the impact of EU consumption on forest loss at a global scale. The study has now been completed and provides an in-depth assessment of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation and also provides general indications and options for possible policy responses.

The study results provide additional factual support to - and will also contribute to - the implementation of a number of on-going policy initiatives in the area of Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Development. Some of the issues raised in the study may also be the basis for the consideration of options for future actions or proposals by the Commission.

The study has been carried out over a two year period by a consortium of institutes led by Vito, and including IIASA, Cicero, K.U. Leuven and IUCN-Netherlands. The findings are the outcome of the work of the consortium and they do not represent the position of the EC

Main results from the study

The study provides a quantification of the impact of overall EU consumption on global deforestation. It also provides a general screening of relevant policy areas where options for action could be pursued to address this impact and advance work towards EU sustainable consumption.

The study has developed a  concept - ‘embodied deforestation’ - which refers to the deforestation associated with the production of a good or commodity.  This good or commodity may be consumed in the country of origin or traded elsewhere. It allows to link deforestation in producer countries/regions with the associated consumption of goods in consumer countries/regions.

The key results, covering the period 1990-2008, show that:

  • The majority of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin are consumed at local or regional level, and are not traded internationally. In quantitative terms, 33% of crops and 8% of livestock products (with embodied deforestation) are traded outside the countries or regions of production;
  • Of the portion which is traded internationally, the EU 27 imported and consumed 36% of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin. This is equivalent to the import and consumption in the EU of a deforested land area of 9 million ha over the period 1990-2008;
  • If we refer to the global consumption of agricultural and livestock commodities with embodied deforestation, i.e. including also domestic and regional consumption, the impact of EU consumption is 7%. This figure can increase up to 10% if all finally processed products and all consumption sectors are added on (i.e. textile, service sectors, etc.);
  • Consumption of oil crops - such as soy and palm oil - and their derived processed goods, as well as meat consumption play a major role in the impact of EU consumption on global deforestation.

Next steps

Given the number of issues dealt with by the study, any possible follow up will need to be based on a broad discussion with all stakeholders. The targeted actions of the European Commission's "Roadmap for a resource-efficient Europe" as part of the Europe 2020 strategy, already address some of the issues highlighted in  the study, such as the impact of the food sector – and particularly of some commodities such as soy, meat and oil palm, on global deforestation.

Other areas where further analysis and work is on going or needed are: the energy sector - with the impact of biofuels production and EU imports – consumption habits, behavioural changes; improved information and awareness raising at consumers and industrial level.

In order to continue work in this field, the EC will convene meetings with experts and stakeholders in the last quarter of 2013 and during 2014. Based on the feedback received at those meetings, the Commission will also undertake a broad based public consultation via the web to seek additional views across the EU and beyond. The objectives will be to gather additional views to critically assess the results of the study and seek opinions on how to prioritise areas where future policy initiatives could be identified.

Publication of study outputs

Three reports are available:

Contacts and/or questions have to be addressed to the functional mailbox ENV DEFORESTATION

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Extpub | by Dr. Radut