Current land use practices and consumption patterns are increasingly impacting land systems, putting natural resources under greater pressure and exacerbating sustainability challenges. As consumption patterns shift towards more animal-based and processed diets, increasing land area is dedicated to the large-scale production of commodities such as soybeans and palm oil at the expense of natural areas such as forests. Occurrence and severity of fires especially within or near closed canopy tropical forests is also consequently increasing.

Corporations are prominent agents in this food system. Agribusiness actors are key decision makers, influencing production and linking production frontiers to consumers. Large financial actors possess significant corporate control globally, playing a particularly important role through behaviour and influence in companies shaping ecosystems all over the world. In parallel, spiralling deforestation and forest fires are a systemic risk to both corporate and financial actors.

Due to the importance of land use change in achieving sustainability transitions and global sustainability goals (i.e. limiting global heating to 1.5-degrees Celsius and halting terrestrial biodiversity loss) and crucial role that these agents play in markets and in land use outcomes, the consequences of corporate and financial institution anti-deforestation and fires use strategies including trade-offs, possible pareto-improvements and conditions for success warrant exploration.


This research aims to improve our understanding of how corporate and financial institutional actors involved in the food system impact forests and fire regimes through the anti-deforestation and fires use strategies they take.

Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping combined with agent-based models is used to represent interactions among corporate, financial and producer agents. Environmental and economic outcomes emerge from the coupled model. Potential implications and conditions for successfully achieving sustainability transitions and global sustainability goals are explored.

This work is focused on the EU27+UK and China as the receiving systems while Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia act as sending states with countries in the rest of the world representing spillover systems.

Deforestation and fire as rainforest burned to make way for oil palm plantation

Deforestation environmental problem. Cutting down and burning rainforest. Fire and smoke causes carbon emissions leading to climate change. Land clearing for palm oil industry

Banner image: Aerial view and directly from above of some palm oil plantations in the province of Kalimantan (Borneo) that joins with other land that has been slashed and burnt. It is unfortunate to say that because of the palm oil industry, hectares of rainforests are being destroyed to replace those natural habitats with this cheap commodity.

Leadership Team

Wildfires and other forms of landscape burning turn solid material held in vegetation and organic soil into a complex mix of airborne gases and particulates. When conducted over large areas and/or in extreme fires, this rapid process can result in massive atmospheric impacts, perhaps most particularly on air quality (AQ). Landscape fires of this sort are thus responsible for severe AQ episodes, including some of the world’s worst events that likely impact the health of millions. Furthermore, in many regions of the developing world recurrent burning of agricultural waste over huge areas of croplands leads to air pollution episodes that routinely affect the air that hundreds of millions of people breath, including in some of the largest mega-cities on Earth. However, it can be hard to disentangle the contribution landscape fires make to the poor air quality of these areas because many of the areas affected suffer from a paucity of in situ atmospheric measurements for example. Regional AQ modelling can deploy state-of-the-art information on different emissions sources, including landscape fires and agricultural burning, to address these and other related questions, ultimately informing studies of human health and also potentially agricultural policy development related to changing patterns and timing of cropping. Other uses of such modelling include the study of the radiative effects of the short-lived climate impactors (SLCPs) and to support the evaluation and validation of new fire emissions estimates coming from Earth Observation – which are extremely difficult to validate directly or through other means but which when placed within a regional AQ model can provide metrics such as aerosol optical depth timeseries that can be compared to high accuracy in situ data.

Project duration: 2021-2025

Leadership Team