Danish soy and palm oil imports account for 7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year

A new report released by University of Copenhagen researchers indicates that Danish soybean and palm oil imports account for seven million tons of CO2 emissions annually. By comparison, Danish agriculture’s combined CO2 emissions are 12 million tonnes annually. Deforestation-free imports, enhanced traceability and common EU policy can all contribute towards reducing CO2 emissions.

Animal feed, food production, cosmetics – the list of what soybeans and palm oil are used for in agriculture and industry is long. In a new report prepared for the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, researchers from the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen studied greenhouse gas emissions associated with Denmark’s soybean and palm oil imports.

The report shows that Denmark’s annual importation of approximately 1.6 million tonnes of soybean and 160,000 tonnes of palm oil emit a total of 7 million tonnes of CO2. By comparison, Danish agriculture’s combined CO2 emissions are 12 million tonnesannually.

“In particular, soy and palm oil production in South America and Indonesia are associated with the transformation of a number of forested and natural areas. Simply put, people clear forest to plant soy. In doing so, large amounts of greenhouse gases are released,” explains Associate Professor Aske Skovmand Bosselmann, the researcher behind the report.

Deforestation-free imports reduce Danish emissions, but not globally

The researcher also studied opportunities for Denmark to reduce CO2 emissions from soy and palm oil imports and what the effects of production without forest and natural area clearing would be on Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“One can conclude that Denmark’s climate footprint would fall tremendously if we were to only import guaranteed deforestation-free soybeans and palm oil,” states Aske Skovmans Bosselmann, referring to the report. Indeed, it was calculated that a reduction of up to 4 million tons of greenhouse gases could be achieved if imports were limited to deforestation-free products.

However, the researcher points out that South American countries and Indonesia currently allow legal deforestation and do not implement legislation designed to thwart illegal deforestation to a sufficient degree. Thus, ensuring that production meets with varying legal requirements is difficult in practice. Concurrently, any change in Danish consumption to deforestation-free production runs the risk of shifting the problem elsewhere.

“Even though Danish demand is changing slightly – and will only use certified deforestation-free soybeans and palm oil in the future – exports of conventionally produced raw materials will probably be shifted to other countries or move to growing domestic markets in the countries of origin. So, while it is good for our carbon footprint, the global impact will be marginal,” says Bosselmann.

Common EU policy and greater traceability are the way forward

Among Danish importers and stakeholders, addressing the problem may become a necessity, as sustainability has become a competitive parameter and feature of annual reporting, for larger companies in particular.

“For instance, companies that report their ‘carbon footprint’ in sustainability reports must include negative environmental impacts associated with their suppliers, including those located abroad. This provides a greater incentive to impose higher demands on supplier production,” says Bosselmann.

The researcher believes that the greatest influence on the climate impact of soybean and palm oil production can be achieved through a common EU procurement policy, among European private and public sector actors, combined with greatly improved control of product traceability.

“While there is talk of responsible soybean and palm oil production in France and Germany, there need to be ‘first movers’ to lead the way for a common EU policy,” states the researcher.

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