The need to tackle international drivers of deforestation has long been acknowledged; but remains little addressed via policy measures. In the European Union (EU), a new policy debate is emerging around the concept of “embodied deforestation”, which targets EU agricultural commodity imports as drivers of deforestation. The notion views deforestation as an externality generated by EU imports associated with tropical deforestation. Our article examines whether this concept represents a shift in tackling international-level drivers of tropical deforestation within EU policy. We also examine, from a networked governance perspective, whether this new debate fuels further fragmentation or rather a move towards a more integrated approach to combating tropical forest loss within EU policy, and what the implications are for other initiatives, such as the climate change related “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” (REDD+). Our analysis draws on an extensive analysis of EU policy documents and semi-structured interviews with stakeholders and EU decision-makers. We find that, despite growing debate around the concept of embodied deforestation, policy measures necessary to reduce the impact of EU consumption of agricultural commodities associated with tropical deforestation have not yet been developed. We conclude that “embodied deforestation” remains more an idea than reality within EU policy to date, with the burden of responsibility for addressing international deforestation drivers still largely remaining on developing countries. There is still potential, however, for this debate to lead to a more integrated approach to tackling tropical deforestation within EU policy, if it comes to be seen, together with REDD+, as one of a number of linked approaches to EU efforts to combat deforestation.
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