The links between international trade and biodiversity loss

If you think of international trade and endangered species you most probably think of illegal trade of products made from wild animals and plants (e.g. ivory, leather, rhino horns). Although illegal trade is undoubtedly a significant threat to biodiversity, international trade affects wild species in a more complex way. A new study in Nature is the first to quantify the impacts of global trade on animals.

The researchers looked at 7,000 threatened animal species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and linked them to more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries (e.g. tea, coffee, palm oil). They discovered that 30% of the species threats are due to international trade.

The study also points out countries that contribute the most to biodiversity loss through trade. Unsurprisingly, the USA is leading the list followed by Japan, Germany and France and the UK is the fifth in the row. Additionally, in these countries more species are threatened by implicated imports than are threatened by domestic production.

The authors hope that their results will facilitate better regulation and consumer product labelling. Labelling can raise awareness of the ecological and climate footprints of products and allow people to do their bit for biodiversity in their everyday lives. The researchers also suggest that “reducing the volume of trade in implicated commodities and implementing protective policies at the production, trade and consumption points in the supply chain could have a significantly higher impact in preventing biodiversity loss than the CITES controls”.

Lenzen, M., Moran, D., Kanemoto, K., Foran, B., Lobefaro, L. and Geschke, A. (2012) International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations. Nature 486:109–112. doi:10.1038/nature11145