WWF: climate targets can only be achieved by eliminating deforestation

09 novembro 2022

Study shows that food production chain contributes at least 1/3 of total greenhouse gas emissions

By WWF-Brazil 

A new technical note by the WWF, delivered to the UN climate negotiators gathered in Egypt for COP27, warns that the 1.5ºC target of the Paris Agreement will not be met without the participation of agricultural producers. The work shows that the food production chain contributes at least one third of the total net emissions of greenhouse gases that are changing the planet's climate. This means that emissions from the food system have to decrease by more than 80% by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C and prevent future generations from living on a hostile planet.

“Overall food production will need to increase to meet the demand of a growing global population. And emissions will need to decrease to keep the balance of greenhouse gases at levels in line with a future of 1.5ºC”, warns Jean François Timmers, Public Policy Manager for Deforestation and Conversion-free Supply Chains of the WWF Network. “These emission intensity reduction targets require that commodity-related land conversion progressively decrease until it is eliminated in 2030,” he points out.

Three commodities account for the largest share of deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems, and are related to high levels of emissions, as well as other major natural impacts from food production. Together, livestock, palm oil and soy account for about 1/4 of the global food sector's emissions. WWF calculated the greenhouse gas footprint of these commodities produced in deforested areas compared to products free of deforestation. In the case of soybeans, the footprint is 13 times larger; and 11 times larger in the case of meat.

“Soy, beef and palm oil have such high emissions that, if not addressed urgently, they will not allow these sectors to perform properly in the climate and biodiversity agendas”, highlights Frederico Machado, leader of the WWF-Brazil's Zero Conversion Strategy. “In other words, in order to reach 'carbon neutral' commodities (or net zero, in the most current language), it will not be possible to offset emissions associated with production and land use change, without proper addressing of the main emission factor, the conversion and deforestation of natural ecosystems, as has been happening in the Cerrado and the Amazon”, he says.

Conversion of ecosystems to make room for the expansion of these three commodities accounts for about 40-50% of emissions from the land use change category for agricultural purposes, and about 9-12% of total emissions from food systems. Alone, the conversion of native vegetation to pastures accounts for about a fifth of the total livestock footprint. Conversion of land for soy production, in turn, accounts for most of its total footprint and accounts for somewhere between 5% and 14% of land-use emissions from the entire food system. Another challenge associated with the global food system is the ongoing loss of global biodiversity, 70% of which is directly associated with land use change.

The WWF analysis shows that leaving out the calculation of emissions related to deforestation will not allow the agricultural commodities sector to reach the 1.5ºC target. Ignoring emissions related to land use change would exceed targets of 1.5°C by 3 Gt CO2eq by 2030 and over 30 Gt CO2eq by 2050 for beef, 1.3 Gt CO2eq by 2030 and 5.2 Gt CO2eq by 2050 for palm oil and 2 Gt CO2eq in 2030 and 15 Gt CO2eq in 2050 for soybeans. "Every year deforestation grows, it jeopardises our ability to reach the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C target," says Jean François Timmers.

The WWF technical note also describes the monitoring tools available to food industries and highlights the importance of traceability of commodity purchases, in order to ensure that products from recently deforested areas are not acquired, so that they stop encouraging further destruction. The note also warns of the risk of double accounting: offsets for avoided deforestation and certificates of products free of deforestation count twice. Therefore, WWF demands that the food industry define credible and transparent commitments and strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

One of the most relevant points for the effectiveness of these commitments is the establishment of cut-off dates and target dates for the full implementation of the commitments. The first refers to a date in the past from which deforestation and conversion are no longer allowed in supply chains. For example, the Amazon Soy Moratorium set a cut-off date of July 22, 2008, which means that all soy production on land deforested or converted after that date cannot be purchased by soy traders and other links of the market chain. According to the Accountability Framework and the WWF, cut-off dates established in corporate commitments cannot be later than January 2020. And if there are cut-off dates already defined, in previous commitments or agreements (as is the case of the Amazon Moratorium), these dates must be kept and respected

The target date, in turn, is the time in the near future when the entire supply chain will be clear of deforestation and conversion. To stop global warming and its side effects, this date must be as soon as possible, and it cannot be later than 2025 - according to the Accountability Framework. WWF modelling shows that when conversion elimination is delayed until 2030 – even as farms are working to drastically reduce their emissions – the greenhouse gas footprint of these 3 commodities results in a cumulative excess of 6 Gt CO2eq, up to 2030 and more than 50 Gt CO2eq by 2050.

For reference, these carbon volumes exceed the total emissions of most countries except the top five emitters. In addition, deforestation and conversion damage local water cycles and agricultural resilience, which can further spur habitat destruction and loss of livelihoods.

Brazil is able to face this challenge easier than its competitors. The country already has low carbon agriculture programs, such as the ABC Plan. And it has a stock of degraded or underused land that will allow the expansion of agricultural productivity without the need to convert native areas. According to MapBiomas data, pastures occupied 154 million hectares across Brazil in 2020 – practically the same size as the state of Amazonas. Out of this total, it is estimated that more than half is below its productive capacity, and that a significant portion (22.1 million hectares) is in a state of severe degradation.

“Agriculture and livestock without deforestation, associated with regenerative agriculture practices, recuperation of degraded pastures and restoration of ecosystems, will allow keeping the growth of Brazilian agribusiness, ensuring long-term sustainability and improving the reputation of the country's production abroad; there is no need to deforest not even one more hectare”, says Frederico Machado.

Deforestation in the Cerrado in October 2022
© Moisés_Muálem/ WWF-Brasil
Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in the state of Acre through the cutting and burning of trees to create pastures.
Photo by IBAMA'S agent - IBAMA, Army and Military Police of Rondônia State inspect chain of custody of timber and illegal deforestation in Espigão do Oeste (Rondônia) in July 2018
© Fernando Augusto;Ibama