Hidden CO2 emissions: Europe’s imported responsibility

A new report reveals that Europe’s biggest importers are responsible for 40% more agricultural emissions than current calculations suggest. 

Europe’s near insatiable demand for commodities such as beef, soy, palm oil, rubber, cocoa, coffee and wood pulp continues to drive the destruction of vast areas of forest across South America, South East Asia, and Africa.

But the CO2 released during the production of these commodities is not calculated in national emission figures of the importing countries.  This means a large portion of CO2 emissions remain a burden on the countries where these products are grown, rather than on the nations who demand and consume them.

The hidden 40%

When we include these hidden emissions in national calculations, European countries see an average 40% increase in the amount of greenhouse gases they produce through agricultural activities. For example, the United Kingdom immediately becomes responsible for 45% more CO2 emissions, and the Netherlands for 75% more. Because to grow the raw materials to produce everyday goods such as tyres, chocolate ice cream and shampoo, land is needed, trees may be cut down, and more CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

This is just one of the findings in the most comprehensive publication to date on the subject of deforestation. The Urgency of Action Report to Tackle Tropical Deforestation by IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, provides critical insights into the current state of deforestation, including the most serious causes of tropical logging, the best solutions up until now, and possible strategies.

85% of deforestation is due to agricultural expansion

IDH’s research shows that the expansion of agriculture and livestock breeding are the cause of over 85% of (sub)tropical deforestation. Examples include the displacement of agricultural land and the production of cocoa, palm oil, coffee, soy, beef, rubber, wood pulp and tropical wood.

In Europe, 12 countries bring in 70% of the continent’s overall imports of these products: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal and Norway.

Taking responsibility for Europe’s coffee habit

Europe is responsible for approximately 50% of global coffee imports, and more than 60% of global cocoa imports. The majority is imported by the same 12 European countries mentioned above. In Europe we therefore have a major role to play in ensuring these goods become more sustainable, and reducing the CO2 emissions from their production.


By not taking responsibility for these greenhouse gases, we are not making a realistic assessment of what our actual emissions are, and therefore which actions are needed to combat climate change in a targeted way”, says Daan Wensing, Program Director at IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative.


Domestic agricultural emissions & hidden carbon emissions from imported commodities (in Mt CO2e) with % increase
Domestic agricultural emissions Hidden emissions % increase

(Hidden/current) x100

Belgium 11.1 10.9 98%
Denmark 13.2 2.8 21%
France 100 27 27%
Germany 111.3 41.2 37%
Italy 38.6 14.9 39%
Norway 6.6 3.6 55%
Poland 38.6 5.4 14%
Portugal 8.3 3.2 39%
Spain 36.9 19.6 53%
Switzerland 6.6 5.3 80%
The Netherlands 21.5 16.1 75%
United Kingdom 56.2 25.3 45%
Average increase 448.9 175.3 39.1

The IDH report combines existing research with new data, and is written in cooperation with independent parties and academics. In addition to the insights, there are nine recommendations given to inform climate policy and stimulate action.

Read the new Urgency of Action report here