EU consumption responsible for 16% of tropical deforestation linked to international trade - new report

Posted on April, 14 2021

The EU is one of the world’s largest importers of tropical deforestation and associated emissions, second only to China, a new WWF report has found.
As the European Commission gets set to present its proposal for new EU legislation to address deforestation in the spring, the report underscores the urgent need for the law to address the entirety of the footprint of EU consumption on our planet’s forests and other ecosystems, such as grasslands and wetlands. 

Based on data and insights compiled by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and through the transparency initiative Trase, Stepping up: The continuing impact of EU consumption on nature provides a revealing look behind the scenes of EU trade, and its hand in tropical deforestation and the destruction of other ecosystems worldwide. 

Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, Senior Forest Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office, one of the lead authors of the report, said: “Across the world, deforestation and ecosystem conversion are fuelling the climate and biodiversity crises, destroying livelihoods and threatening our health. Right now the EU is part of the problem, but with the right legislation we could be part of the solution. 

The European Commission must use today’s findings as a final wake-up call and come forward with a strong and effective legislative proposal to comprehensively tackle the EU’s footprint. This law should prevent any product that has contributed to the destruction of nature - be that ‘legally’ or illegally - or human rights violations, from entering EU markets. It must also go way beyond voluntary measures, providing companies with clear, actionable rules.”

Key findings from the report: 
  • The EU is the second biggest importer of deforestation after China. In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of deforestation associated with international trade, totalling 203,000 hectares and 116 million tonnes of CO₂. The EU was surpassed by China (24%) but outranked India (9%), the United States (7%) and Japan (5%). 
  • Between 2005-2017, soy, palm oil and beef were the commodities with the largest embedded tropical deforestation imported into the EU, followed by wood products, cocoa and coffee. 
  • During this period, the largest EU economies – Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Poland – were responsible for 80% of the EU’s embedded deforestation through their use and consumption of forest-risk commodities.
  • EU demand for these commodities is also driving destruction in non-forest ecosystems, such as grasslands or wetlands. The report establishes clear links between EU consumption, particularly of soy and beef, and the conversion of grassland landscapes, such as the “deforestation hotspots” of the Cerrado in Brazil and the Chaco in Argentina and Paraguay. (These were also identified in WWF’s recent Deforestation Fronts report).
"Tropical deforestation associated with the EU's imports of agricultural commodities is now a quantifiable measure, and so it can no longer be ignored," said Michael Lathuillière, Trase's supply chain mapping team lead and senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute. "Trase can highlight close connections between imports of commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil, and the risk of deforestation in tropical biomes, which in turn can promote targeted EU action to reduce its impact on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions."

In 2020, close to 1.2 million people joined the EU public consultation on deforestation through the NGO-led #Together4Forests campaign to demand strong, ambitious legislation to tackle the EU’s footprint on forests and other ecosystems, making it the largest ever participation on an environmental topic in the history of the EU. The ball is now firmly in the court of the EU institutions to make the law citizens have called for a reality. 

WWF is following the developments closely, and recently published its checklist for the new legislation. It is essential for the new EU law to ensure that products and commodities that have contributed (or risk contributing) to deforestation and/or conversion don’t make it onto the EU market in the first place. The law must also ensure that human rights are respected, and introduce mandatory requirements for due diligence for both businesses and the finance sector and ensure traceability of commodities and supply chain transparency. In parallel, it is essential that the EU strengthens its cooperation with producing countries to support global efforts to put an end to deforestation, nature destruction, and human rights violations. Detailed asks are available in WWF’s policy briefing.

Angelika Pullen
Anke Schulmeister - Oldenhove   

About Trase
Trase is a data-driven transparency initiative jointly led by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Global Canopy, which is revolutionising our understanding of the trade and financing of commodities driving deforestation worldwide. Its unique supply chain mapping approach brings together disparate, publicly available data to connect consumer markets to deforestation and other impacts on the ground. Trase’s freely-available online tools and actionable intelligence enable companies, financial institutions, governments and civil society organisations to take practical steps to address deforestation. More information at
Deforestation and the destruction of natural ecosystems, such as grasslands, savannahs, wetlands or mangroves, put the health of people and planet at risk.
© Bento Viana / WWF Brazil