China's environmental impacts around the world

Palm oil

From 2001 to 2006, China’s imports of palm oil rose from 1,5 million tonnes to 4,8 million tonnes.1 This palm oil was imported from Malaysia and Indonesia, where oil palm plantations are taking over some of the richest tropical rainforests in the world.

Where plantations are created in areas of high conservation value forests (HCVF), this has led to the complete loss of forest ecological functions and socioeconomic benefits for local people.

Find out more about the impacts of forest conversion for agriculture and plantations in Indonesia | Malaysia


Palm oil isn’t the only commodity that is pouring into China. The country's needs for soy are also rising by leaps and bounds (a 300% increase in demand since the mid-1980s), with worrying consequences for nature around the world.

Looking ahead, this growth is expected to continue over the next decade2  with China’s Ministry of Agriculture projecting the country’s soybean consumption to increase to 33 million tonnes by 2007.3

For countries such as Brazil and Argentina, two countries which feed China’s appetite for soybean, this means one thing. Added incentives to convert more ecologically important areas such as the Cerrado savannas and the Amazon rainforests into plantations.

Find out more about the impacts of soy plantations in Argentina | Brazil | Paraguay - what has been lost and the price that is being paid.
Soya or Soy beans (Glycine soja) plantation 
	© WWF / Michel Gunther
Approximately 210 million tons of soy were produced in the world in 2005, mainly to feed pigs, chickens and cattle in order to meet increasing meat consumption worldwide. Soy beans plantation, Paraná, Brazil.
© WWF / Michel Gunther

Wood pulp

Will forest production meet China’s booming wood pulp needs? There is reason for concern, as this is an industry with serious environmental impacts -  both in China and in countries from which it imports wood pulp.

It is thought that by 2010, paper will become the second most important consumption product in China, exceeding steel, cement and oil.4

Considering that pulp forest plantations are often grown on natural forests that have been cleared, China’s growing needs could spell disaster for sensitive and important forests, the people that depend on them and the environmental services they provide.
1 China National Grain and Oils Information Center. 2006. China Palm Oil Trade Outlook. Powerpoint presentation.
2 Dufey A., Baldock D., Farmer M. 2006. Impacts of Changes in Key EU Policies on Trade and Production Displacement of Sugar and Soy. Study commissioned by WWF to IIED, with the collaboration of IEEP. 180 pp.
3 WWF-China. 2004. Key Players in the China Soy Products and Palm Oil Markets. 27 pp.
4 Carey C., Oettli D. 2006. Determining links between agricultural crop expansion and deforestation. A report prepared for the WWF Forest Conversion Initiative. 71 pp.

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