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The Forest Footprint for Cities is intended to support


It is comprised of two main components. 

Forest Footprint For Cities Dashboard

The Forest Footprint will help cities clearly understand, and reduce, the tropical deforestation they are responsible for. Deforestation driven by the consumption of everyday commodities like soy, beef, rubber and palm oil, negatively impacts cities in many ways and is a major contributor to climate change. Tropical deforestation is leading to a biodiversity crisis, shifting rain patterns, and socioeconomic breakdowns, all which can severely impact cities, even when these forests are far away. Now that cities are increasing their focus on climate emissions, the footprint of forest-risk commodities consumed by cities must be better incorporated in climate planning and carbon accounting.

Forest Footprint Action Platform

The Forest Footprint Action Platform provides concrete guidance for cities to use their purchasing power and relationship with their residents to purchase forest-positive products. The guide includes resources for further action, research, and advocacy. Tropical deforestation is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss, and represents 8-10% of annual GHG emissions (3.0-10.3Gt CO2 yr-1). Commercial production of globally traded commodities – such as soy, beef, palm oil, and wood fibre – is now the leading driver of tropical deforestation. To reverse these trends, cities can use their power to stand up for forests, which can in turn help them “build back better” from the current health and economic crises. This Action Plan highlights Innovative plans, enhanced policies and procurement practices, and resident-engagement strategies that have enormous potential to support the conservation and restoration of forests. Each of these opportunities is supported by case studies, research and resources to aid cities in implementing their plans. The Forest Footprint allows cities to measure the impact in terms of hectares of forest conserved and GHG emissions avoided to be included in climate action plans.

How is the Forest Footprint Calculated?

The Forest Footprint for Cities relies on a detailed methodology to calculate cities' impact on tropical forests.

This process can be broken down into three macro categories of calculation:  

Forest footprint for cities tech note diagram.jpg

The Global Production Impact model attributes tropical and subtropical deforestation to global production of a given commodity, regardless of where the commodity was sourced. This allows for the capture of indirect effects that the global market produces (e.g., the pressure of U.S. consumption of soy on Brazilian or Indonesian soy expansion) that are difficult to capture in detailed trade models. This approach is used for the Global Average and Distributed Impact Footprints.

The Physical Trade impact model builds on Pendrill et al.’s (2019a) Physical Trade Model, which is used only in the Trade Flow Footprint. This model tracks national-level consumption of commodities from specific source regions with their respective differing deforestation factors. This model has some advantages over the Global Production model; for example, it better accounts for trade in commodities embodied in certain products, such as bread and pasta, but not heavily processed products, such as frozen pizzas and soaps. It is important to note when analyzing a city’s Forest Footprint that this model should not be considered superior—but rather complementary— to the Global Production Model.

The Global Average footprint variant assumes the equal consumption of commodities per person worldwide. This calculation uses the global average deforestation impact for each commodity (by weight or volume units), regardless of its country of production. This calculation is a useful benchmark, as the per capita rate is the same worldwide. It provides an estimate that would be valid in a closed system view where all consumption and deforestation is accounted for with no leakage. It does not account for the significant differences in consumption rates from one city to another or differences in production based on differing geographies or jurisdictions. 

This calculation estimates the city’s unique consumption patterns based on available national or subnational data. This calculation uses the global average deforestation impact for each commodity (by weight or volume units), regardless of its country of production. By assuming the maximum liquidity of commodities traded in global markets (i.e., where increased consumption of American soybeans or beef in the U.S. increases global demand and incentivizes deforestation for soy farms and ranches in Brazil and Indonesia), this calculation is better able to account for the impacts of city-specific consumption patterns on tropical and subtropical deforestation based on the assumption that global demand is not impacted by any individual city’s consumption.

This footprint variant calculates consumption based on national-level commodity imports via the Physical Trade Model and subnational consumption data, then factors for city population. This calculation takes into account the country of origin of all commodities and traces the deforestation impact attributed to each using the Physical Trade Model. Note that in this unique case the impact model affects how the consumption model calculates consumption. This calculation begins with country-specific data on production, imports, and attributable deforestation of all commodities, thereby offering a high degree of specificity and accuracy on some commodities. It does not account for consumption that eludes commodity tracking, commodities that are embedded in other imports, or indirect deforestation due to global market liquidity.

The Forest Footprint estimate represents the ED in products consumed in a given city. It is based on an average of three distinct footprint variants—Global Average, Distributed Impact, and Trade Flow—each of which is calculated based on different combinations of consumption calculations and impact models. This flexibility allows cities to compare and contrast the impacts of their consumption on tropical and subtropical forests, based on the different assumptions of these models. These footprints align roughly with the three footprints proposed by the European Commission (2013, 97) but are based on simpler methods of estimation. Together, these footprint variants are intended to give city staff and residents a more comprehensive understanding of their impact on tropical and subtropical forests.

CO2 emissions are calculated as a range of per-hectare values from recent (2005–17) tropical and subtropical deforestation taken from Pendrill et al. (2020), who use aboveground biomass estimates from Zarin et al. (2016) and below-ground biomass estimates from Mokany et al. (2006). The Forest Footprint methodology also includes emissions estimates that incorporate carbon opportunity costs (i.e., forgone carbon sequestration [see Searchinger et al. 2018; Waite et al. 2019]). Emissions from deforestation and carbon opportunity costs are presented separately to communicate the total annual CO2 emissions from consumption of ED and wider agricultural land-use emissions for the city in question.

Data from the Land-Balance Deforestation Attribution Model (LanBaDA) are used to calculate the ED in both hectares and tonnes of CO2 emissions associated with a unit of commodity produced (Pendrill et al. 2019a, 2019b, 2020). LanBaDA uses global land-use data from FAO (2020)—which is based on annual national surveys from FAO’s Forest Resources Assessment and FAO’s Land Use, Irrigation and Agricultural Practices questionnaire—and tropical and subtropical forest loss data from Hansen et al. (2013) to estimate the area of tropical and subtropical deforestation associated with the production of commodities.

The first step of the Forest Footprint calculation involves estimating the per capita consumption of key forest-risk commodities by city residents. At the finest level of geographic specificity (city level), the Forest Footprint calculates an average city resident’s consumption profile for each commodity. This is the preferred form of consumption data, but data are not always available at this level of detail and resolution. Census and survey programs often report data by category, not by specific commodity (e.g., money spent on meat and meat products rather than beef), and many commodities are embedded within other products, making their actual consumption difficult to deduce (e.g., palm oil in processed foods and cleaning products).

Hover over boxes within the diagram to show detailed explanations here...

The full Forest Footprint for Cities methodology can be found here.

Frequently asked questions

How do cities contribute to tropical deforestation and what can be done about it?

Agricultural exports and urban growth are strongly related to forest loss in recent decades and higher demand for these commodities from an increasingly urbanized world puts pressure on tropical forests. Cities tend to consume more resources than national averages , many of which – such as beef – are significant drivers of tropical deforestation. Furthermore, their population density and cultural influence significantly shapes global consumption patterns beyond their borders. There are signs that cities across the world are taking steps to reduce tropical deforestation. This is good news, but it is not yet enough to counteract the disproportionate impacts that cities are still having on tropical forests and the climate. It is now time for cities to direct their consumption and influence to slow down, and eventually reverse, their negative impacts on life-giving forests outside their jurisdictional boundaries and become partners in their conservation. To address this, it is important for cities to become aware of the impact they have on tropical deforestation through the everyday products they consume. Cities4Forests has developed a Forest Footprint for Cities to help cites do just this. Cities can then link tropical deforestation with their climate mitigation and adaptation planning, and finally make clear commitments to reducing the tropical deforestation they can influence. Leading cities and/or countries are already taking strides to limit their contribution to tropical deforestation, which can be seen under 'Case Studies'.

Why focus on tropical deforestation? What about boreal forests?

The Forest Footprint for Cities focuses on tropical and subtropical deforestation, where deforestation is defined as the permanent land-use change from forest land to crop, pasture, or plantation forest land (Pendrill et al. 2019a, 2019b, 2020). While this includes some temperate regions (i.e., Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan), the majority of temperate and boreal forests are excluded from this analysis as there is little permanent deforestation in these forests (Curtis et al. 2018). Further, what data exist on deforestation in temperate and boreal forests is not able to be parsed out into commodity-specific drivers of deforestation as in Pendrill et al. (2019a, 2019b, 2020). Temperate and boreal forest loss and degradation are important issues; however, the vast majority of recent forest loss in these areas is attributed not to food products (as with tropical and subtropical deforestation) but to timber harvesting in managed forests (Curtis et al. 2018; Goldman et al. 2020; Hoang and Kanemoto 2021). As forests that are harvested in temperate and boreal zones are likely to be replanted or naturally regenerated, this forest loss falls outside the scope of the Forest Footprint methodology.

What are the main contributors to city-driven tropical deforestation?

Agricultural expansion is the main cause of deforestation. Globally, crop, livestock, and wood production is responsible for 55% of all deforestation from 1990-2008. Within this, the production of just four commodities – beef, soybeans, palm oil, and wood – was responsible for over 40% of total tropical deforestation from 2000-2011. The following commodities have been identified as “forest-risk commodities” due to the impact their production and extraction has on the deforestation or degradation of tropical forests.

Why does the Forest Footprint use multiple variants and impact models?

The Forest Footprint estimate represents the embodied deforestation in products consumed in a given city. It is based on an average of three distinct footprint variants—Global Average, Distributed Impact, and Trade Flow—each of which is calculated based on different combinations of consumption calculations and impact models. This flexibility allows cities to compare and contrast the impacts of their consumption on tropical and subtropical forests, based on the different assumptions of these models. These footprints align roughly with the three footprints proposed by the European Commission (2013, 97) but are based on simpler methods of estimation. Together, these footprint variants are intended to give city staff and residents a more comprehensive understanding of their impact on tropical and subtropical forests. This supports the the main goals of the Forest Footprint for Cities: 1) to raise awareness of the scale of the overall impact of urban consumption on tropical and subtropical forests and 2) to help cities focus their climate mitigation actions on high impact commodities.

What if my city doesn’t consume commodities sourced from tropical countries?

One major challenge of deforestation-free actions is understanding the attribution of deforestation impacts of forest-risk commodities produced outside of tropical forests. For instance, if a Torontonian eats soy grown in Saskatchewan, under this reasoning, there would be no tropical deforestation attributed to it. Alternatively, we may consider the “liquidity” of the global market as a mechanism that effectively distributes the deforestation across the commodity, whether the soy is grown in Mato Grosso or Saskatchewan. This is an important shift in assumptions as it allows us to capture, albeit roughly, the indirect effects that global markets have on tropical deforestation linked to agriculture. The rise and fall of international forest-risk commodity prices have directly impacted forest cover before. For example, deforestation in Guanacaste, Costa Rica was gradual in the first half of the 20th century but a hike in the international price of beef due to the opening of beef exports to the US led to the rapid expansion of the industry and subsequent deforestation across Central and South America. Government subsidies enabled this expansion even further in Costa Rica and other countries. In the 1980s however, international beef prices dropped – as Europe became a net exporter and US per capita beef consumption dropped – and Costa Rica withdrew the subsidies. Forest cover doubled from 1979 to 2005 in Guanacaste largely due to farm abandonment after the drop in beef prices. Physical or even political “distance” is no constraint to globalized consumption, given that China is one of the largest consumers of Brazilian beef. A likely conclusion could be that an increase in China’s beef consumption certainly moves the needle on global beef pricing as does the New Yorker’s. Notwithstanding trade relations, we could assume that if Brazilian beef passed a certain price threshold, China would increase imports from North America, or vice versa as the case may be from Europe. These patterns have also been seen in highly liquid forest-risk commodities linked to deforestation such as gold and other minerals. Political demand-side constraints are fundamental to limit deforestation-risk commodity consumption. If in Oslo, for example, all beef is sourced from Norwegian farmers, should Oslo then bear the “global tropical deforestation average'' for their beef consumption? At first it would seem that the answer should be ‘no’, that they should not be penalized given the lack of tropical deforestation on Norwegian cattle farms. This leads to several important questions: - Is there an enforceable regulation or other mechanism in place that holds Oslo consumption to the “clean beef” standard? - Does the consumption (higher or lower) of Norwegian beef register in the global market via other mechanisms, such as export pricing, or other feedback loops? - Does imported beef leak into Oslo’s supply chain via processed products like sausage, meat sauces, fast food chains, frozen pizzas or leather products? These considerations lead to the conclusion that all forest-risk commodities should start with the same global deforestation average impact at the outset of the Footprinting and policymaking process. The important exception is where there is a clear designation and an enforceable mechanism from the municipality (or national level) to limit or exclude the consumption of products coming from forest risk jurisdictions. These mechanisms should be stress-tested as per above questions about feedback loops and leakage. Any such mechanisms should also be catalogued as examples of “what your city can do about its Forest Footprint”. This Forest Footprint Action Plan aspires to be a collection mechanism for what is working in the global systems, as well as a platform for systems innovation on policy, technology, market and culture.

How can the Forest Footprint tool be used to create change?  

The Forest Footprint for Cities methodology is designed to help measure the area of tropical deforestation and associated CO2 emissions resulting from the consumption of commodities linked to deforestation. The methods traditionally present the city’s Forest Footprint in terms of hectares of embodied deforestation consumed and the associated CO2 emissions. The Forest Footprint’s results are accessible in an online dashboard. The Dashboard allows city leaders, staff and residents to understand the impact that city consumption has on tropical and subtropical forests through everyday consumption and to visualize how reducing the volume or the impact of specific commodities might change the footprint.

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