LUCSUS Seminar: Landgrabbing in Cambodia
Rapid deforestation is a major sustainability challenge, not least since the loss of carbon sinks exacerbates global climate change. In Cambodia, more than two million hectares of land, or 13% of the total land area, have been contracted as economic land concessions to foreign and domestic agribusinesses. This has led to rapid land-use and land-cover changes and deforestation, as small-scale farmland and forests have turned into large-scale monocultures for export-oriented crop production over the last two decades. However, the interconnectedness between local and global environmental effects often remain invisible. Here we use the dynamic global vegetation model LPJ-GUESS to assess nation-wide effects on carbon stocks, by comparing past and present land-use and land-cover and highlighting hotspots of carbon loss between 1987-2017. We thereafter link global consumption and production patterns to their environmental effects in Cambodia by mapping where carbon embedded in land-use and land-cover change are exported. We find that natural forests have decreased from 54 to 21% between 1987 and 2017, mainly for the expansion of farmland and orchards. This translates into 300 million tons of carbon lost, at loss rates that are over twice as high within economic land concessions compared to other areas. China is the biggest importer of embedded carbon, mainly for rubber and sugarcane from Chinese agribusinesses. Cambodian investors have also negatively affected carbon pools through export-oriented products like rubber. The combined understanding of environmental change and trade flows makes it possible to identify distant drivers of deforestation, which enables new insights for crafting more responsible policies.