Trade in natural and agricultural goods has long been a key part of economic growth - but not all growth is sustainable. Removing too many wild animals or plants can cause populations to decline and ultimately crash. Clearing land for crops also removes important habitat for wildlife and threatens water, air and soil resources.
This is far from an insignificant threat - in fact, the world’s leading experts have ranked ‘the direct exploitation of organisms’ as the second biggest cause of wildlife loss around the world. Those same experts predicted that a million species are now threatened with extinction.
This degradation affects everybody. If a forest empties of wildlife, or is cleared for commercial farming, there is little left for local people to live on. It also releases greenhouse gases, accelerating the climate crisis and reducing the environment's ability to to bounce back after extreme weather events.
Wildlife also directly supports many of the earth's functions that we depend upon. A thriving, diverse nature can much better clean water, keep down pests and diseases, and provide food and raw materials.
To protect our natural environment and support human development, as well as reach international ambitions such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, we must take steps to make trade more sustainable.
As the leading organisation for the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF) Trade, Development and the Environment Hub, we will work with over 50 partner organisations from 15 different countries - aiming to help make sustainable trade a positive force in the world.
We will focus work on the impact of the trade of specific goods, and on seeking solutions to these impacts. The Hub will select trades that are already having, or have the potential to have, a major impact on biodiversity, as well as those that are important for local livelihoods:
Emerging trades, for example in crops such as bush mango and the African cherry, will also be studied as examples of wild-sourced species that are being gradually domesticated into agricultural systems and that may have wider impacts on nature.
These various trades will be studied within eight countries, chosen for being in different stages of economic development as well as producing a wide range of wildlife and agricultural products: Brazil, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Republic of Congo, and Tanzania. These are also countries where UNEP-WCMC and its partners have strong existing ties and expertise, and a clear platform for gathering knowledge.
The project will study how different systems of trade have affected biodiversity from a biophysical, social, political and economic point of view, and seek to trace the impact of the trade throughout supply chains - from supplier to consumer countries via trading companies. As well as feeding into public policy advice, this research will also help companies understand their products’ true environmental impact all the way back to the raw materials.
The Hub will work closely with international and regional trade bodies, charities and corporate partners to design targeted recommendations for the public policy and corporate spheres, ensuring impact of the research and creating sustainable change.
Thumbnail image: Manuel Providencia
UNEP-WCMC has a strong foundation in interdisciplinary work around the world. Our decades of experience, along with an in-house team of ecological modellers, social scientists, economists, and policy analysts, makes us perfectly placed to advise decision makers at every scale.
The UKRI GCRF Trade, Development and the Environment Hub is a UKRI Collective Fund award, under the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges and Research Fund (UKRI GCRF). As the lead organisation UNEP-WCMC brings together over 50 partners working all across the world in business, industry and academia, including: