According to the Kyoto Protocol, each country is responsible for its carbon emissions quota. Considering the volume of international trade today, and the economic influence of consumers around the word, it now seems fair to consider importing countries when assigning responsibility for greenhouse gases. For instance, if all the greenhouse gases emitted in China when manufacturing goods for export to the US were summed up and added to currently reported US emissions, the total amount of emissions for the US would be significantly higher.

Several studies have looked at how a country's emissions burden might change if we use this new kind of calculation, but deforestation and other carbon-intensive changes to the land have often been neglected – even though they make up around 20% of global emissions.

My research focuses on Brazil, a country that has some of the largest emissions from deforestation and which is also a leading exporter of agricultural products. Using a model to estimate carbon emissions from deforestation, and statistics on beef and soybean production, I estimated how much of the carbon emissions from Brazilian deforestation could be attributed to countries that import agricultural goods from Brazil if this new way of calculating "consumption emissions" was implemented.

The carbon contained in soybeans and beef exported from the Amazon between 1990 and 2006 was 148 TgCO2e. The major importing regions were Asia, the EU, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Under this scheme, Brazil would be held accountable for just half the emissions, with the importing country responsible for the remaining half. Moreover, new emissions from deforestation would carry a greater burden than greenhouse gases from older agricultural land, thus making goods from newly cleared land more expensive.

There is still much research to be done before such a system can be put in place, but splitting the carbon burden between producer and consumer would help to alleviate some of the current problems with the Kyoto Protocol, and would raise the price of carbon-intensive goods.