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In developing countries, commodities meant for export contribute to land use change responsible for emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and agriculture. 


This factor needs to be considered within the REDD+ framework in the form of a concept that scientists working with ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins (World Agroforestry Centre) are calling Emissions Embodied in Trade (EET).


Agricultural productivity and effective policies of reforestation and forest protection have contributed to increased forest areas in countries such as Costa Rica, Vietnam and China, but there is also evidence that these countries have made this transition by increasing their imports of agricultural and forestry products from other countries, thus displacing their land use and transferring their emissions to export countries. “By importing food, fiber and wood products, the forest transition countries have increased the area outside of their borders required for the production and by so doing have increased their external emissions footprint,” explains  Dr. Peter Minang’, ASB Global Coordinator. “This is what we refer to as net displacement beyond the national boundary of the country,” explains Dr. Van Noordwijk Meine, Chief Science Advisor at the World Agroforestry Centre.


The researchers demonstrate the extent of this displacement by using international trade data converted into the area needed for the production of the commodities. “In total, 52% of the increased forest areas by the forest transition countries was offset by an increase in displaced land use to countries providing the imports over the past 5 years,” says Dr. Patrick Meyfroidt from Université catholique de Louvain.


These findings show that EET needs to be recognized within the context of international leakage in the REDD+ discussions. “Calculation of national emissions should also include emissions caused by products consumed within that country and not just those produced within” suggests Dr. Minang.


Another opportunity to address this is through consumer driven market demand for “greener” commodities. By creating demand for carbon neutral commodities and boycotting from products whose activities are characterized by destructive environmental practices, consumers can contribute to reducing emissions through trade. “Cases where the public are influencing proper land use through campaigns against industries with high emission rates and that are involved in new forest clearing are becoming common,” says Dr. Meine, stressing the need for more transparency, good record keeping and reporting as well as models for low carbon development pathways along the value chains of commodities in developing countries.


“Major hindrances to tackling emissions embodied in trade are the diverse accounting rules for carbon footprints. These need to be comparable and standardized with globally acceptable rules,” urges Dr. Meyfroidt.


Source: Minang, P. A.; van Noordwijk, M.; Meyfroidt, P.; Agus, F.; Dewi, S. 2010. Emissions Embedded in Trade (EET) and Land use in Tropical Forest Margins. ASB PolicyBrief 17. ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins, Nairobi, Kenya.

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