Global commodities: A tale of destruction?

Global commodities: a tale of destruction?

ARTICLE · By Lucy Bedry · 16 April 2021

Recent figures published by the WWF, incorporating research by Trase, demonstrates the destructive nature of forest commodities through tropical deforestation rates, placing some of these figures in the hands of consumers. But can we turn it around?

Recent figures published by the WWF, incorporating research by Trase, demonstrates the destructive nature of forest commodities through tropical deforestation rates, placing some of these figures in the hands of consumers. Agricultural commodities linked to tropical deforestation can be found in every aisle of the supermarket. Imports between 2005 and 2017 into the EU, are associated with 3.5 million hectares of deforestation (an area the size of the Netherlands) and linked to 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Research shows that the average western consumer is responsible for the felling of four trees per year – as a result of coffee, chocolate, beef, palm oil and other forest-related commodities.

The issue is that: “Global markets are putting increasing pressure on remaining intact areas of tropical forest and non-forest ecosystems around the world”, WWF. Simply put: ‘we can no longer ignore deforestation hidden in the goods we buy, Global Canopy.

In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of tropical deforestation associated with international trade. This equated to 203,000 hectares (HA) or 116 million tonnes of carbon. China exceeded this by 24%, with India at 9%, the US at 7%, and Japan at 5%. Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Poland – the largest EU economies –  were responsible for 80% of the EU’s embedded deforestation through their use of forest commodities between 2005 – 2017.

The EU is the second-largest importer of tropical deforestation and associated emissions. Soy, palm oil, and beef had the largest embedded tropical deforestation associated with imports to the EU, followed by wood products, cocoa, and coffee. Deforestation was greatest for imports from Brazil, Indonesia, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Expansion of agriculture


Global soybean production has increased 15 times over since the 1950s – made into food products, meat substitutes, and widely used as animal feed for agricultural production (WWF). Soil erosion is often associated with soybean cultivation, in addition to heavy agrochemicals and fertilizer use.

Palm oil

Palm oil is used for cooking, food products, detergents, cosmetics, and biofuel. It is a productive crop, favourable to other vegetable oils as it grows at a far greater yield – leading to high global production and demand. Comparing global oil yields by crop plant in tonnes per hectare (t/ha): Soy 04.t/ha Coconut 0.7 t/ha Sunflower 0.7 t/ha Rapeseed 0.7 t/ha Palm oil 3.3t/ha


An estimates 25% of global land use, land-use change, and forestry emissions are driven by beef production (WWF). Rising economic and income levels, paired with global population increase, will undoubtedly place greater pressure on and demand for beef and agriculture associated. More agricultural land is used to raise cattle than all other domesticated animals and crops combined. Over two-thirds of the world’s agricultural land is used for maintaining livestock.

Wood products

Models by the WWF suggest that an additional 242-304 million hectares of natural forest would need to be managed for commercial harvesting by 2050, an increase of 25% more than today. Better forest management is necessary, as well as improved governance, law enforcement, stricter trade regulations and supply chain mapping & traceability.

We need to invest and ensure that sustainable forest management thrives to keep this natural habitat standing. “Responsibly forested timber is an essential part of the climate change solutions; however, tropical forests have too often been undervalued and their forest land cleared for other uses”, David Hopkins, TTF CEO.


Annually around 3 million tons of cocoa are produced with a market value of $100 billion in 2015. Particularly abundant in West Africa, experts estimate that around 70% of the Ivory Coast’s illegal deforestation – one of the world’s largest exporters – is related to cocoa farming.


As the world’s second most tradable commodity, the $10 billion industry is not harmless of environmental and ecological destruction (Trade Environment Database). For every cup of coffee consumed, it is almost certain that one square inch of rainforest was destroyed.

What can be done?

There is a need to reduce pressure on nature, for solutions to go beyond forests – to all biodiversities, habitats, and ecosystems, all of which provide vital services to local people and the planet. Further continuation of advancements in supply chain transparency, traceability, and accountability to show data and due diligence measures.

Legislation needs to address commodity-driven deforestation and land-use conversion. Policymakers in the EU are considering introducing mandatory requirements for commodity supply chains with a necessity to ensure that the scope of these proposals goes beyond forests, and due diligence measures, including support for producer countries to focus on deforestation regions.

These regulations need to be mandatory, as voluntary deforestation commitments, such as the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, have often failed. Countries should require companies to carry out due diligence on all commodities and supply chains, to ensure that imports are not linked to illegal deforestation or land conversion.

“It is crucial that both the UK and EU’s proposals extend to legal deforestation, and that they cover important non-forest ecosystems which are also at risk of being destroyed”, Global Canopy.

The report lists further recommendations and lessons learnt all of which are at a country, government or business level. But what can the average consumer do? Eliminate deforestation from diet choices where possible – reducing meat intake, shopping local, checking food packaging and purchasing alternatives. Reducing carbon footprints, buying responsibly sourced products and perhaps most importantly, educating those around us and ourselves. For more information, look through the insightful reports included below or get in touch Make a change, today.

Insightful reports

WWF: Stepping up? The continuing impact of EU consumption on nature worldwide (1)

Trase insight: Trase data highlights EU’s role in deforestation (2)

Global Canopy: We can no longer ignore deforestation hidden in the goods we buy (3)

The Guardian: Average westerner’s eating habits lead to loss of four trees every year (4)

Florence Pendrill et al. 2019 Environ. Res. Lett. 14 055003: Deforestation displaced: trade in forest-risk commodities and the prospect for a global forest transition (5)

Florence Pendrill et al. 2019 Global Environ. Change 56: Agricultural and forestry trade drivers large share of tropical deforestation emissions (6)

Nguyen Tien Hoang & Keiichiro Kanemoto 2021 Nature Ecology & Evolution: Mapping the deforestation footprint of nations reveals growing threat to tropical forests (7)