International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
486,
Pages:
109–112
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature11145
Received
Accepted
Published online

Human activities are causing Earth’s sixth major extinction event1—an accelerating decline of the world’s stocks of biological diversity at rates 100 to 1,000 times pre-human levels2. Historically, low-impact intrusion into species habitats arose from local demands for food, fuel and living space3. However, in today’s increasingly globalized economy, international trade chains accelerate habitat degradation far removed from the place of consumption. Although adverse effects of economic prosperity and economic inequality have been confirmed4, 5, the importance of international trade as a driver of threats to species is poorly understood. Here we show that a significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes, and that, in particular, consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries. We linked 25,000 Animalia species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List to more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries and evaluated more than 5billion supply chains in terms of their biodiversity impacts. Excluding invasive species, we found that 30% of global species threats are due to international trade. In many developed countries, the consumption of imported coffee, tea, sugar, textiles, fish and other manufactured items causes a biodiversity footprint that is larger abroad than at home. Our results emphasize the importance of examining biodiversity loss as a global systemic phenomenon, instead of looking at the degrading or polluting producers in isolation. We anticipate that our findings will facilitate better regulation, sustainable supply-chain certification and consumer product labelling.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Top net importers and exporters of biodiversity threats.
    Figure 1: Top net importers and exporters of biodiversity threats.

    In importer countries marked with an asterisk, the biodiversity footprint rests more abroad then domestically; that is, more species are threatened by implicated imports than are threatened by domestic production.

  2. Selected net exporters.
    Figure 2: Selected net exporters.

    Selected net exporters and final destinations of biodiversity-implicated commodities.

  3. Flow map of threats to species.
    Figure 3: Flow map of threats to species.

    Flow map of threats to species caused by exports from Malaysia (reds) and imports into Germany (blues). Note that the lines directly link the producing countries, where threats are recorded, and final consumer countries. Supply-chain links in intermediate countries are accounted for but not explicitly visualized. An interactive version is available at http://www.worldmrio.com/biodivmap/.

References

  1. Chapin, F. S. et al. Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature 405, 234242 (2000)
  2. Pimm, S. L., Russell, G. J., Gittleman, J. L. & Brooks, T. M. The future of biodiversity. Science 269, 347350 (1995)
  3. Donald, P. F. Biodiversity impacts of some agricultural commodity production systems. Conserv. Biol. 18, 1738 (2004)
  4. Naidoo, R. & Adamowicz, W. L. Effects of economic prosperity on numbers of threatened species. Conserv. Biol. 15, 10211029 (2001)
  5. Mikkelson, G. M., Gonzalez, A. & Peterson, G. D. Economic inequality predicts biodiversity loss. PLoS ONE 2, e444 (2007)
  6. Perfecto, I., Mas, A., Dietsch, T. & Vandermeer, J. Conservation of biodiversity in coffee agroecosystems: a tri-taxa comparison in southern Mexico. Biodivers. Conserv. 12, 12391252 (2003)
  7. Philpott, S. M. et al. Biodiversity loss in Latin American coffee landscapes: review of the evidence on ants, birds, and trees. Conserv. Biol. 22, 10931105 (2008)
  8. Fearnside, P. M. Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environ. Conserv. 28, 2338 (2001)
  9. Nepstad, D. C., Stickler, C. M. & Almeida, O. T. Globalization of the Amazon soy and beef industries: opportunities for conservation. Conserv. Biol. 20, 15951603 (2006)
  10. Shearman, P. L., Ash, J., Mackey, B., Bryan, J. E. & Lokes, B. Forest conversion and degradation in Papua New Guinea 1972–2002. Biotropica 41, 379390 (2009)
  11. Michael E, H. An assessment of the status of the coral reefs of Papua New Guinea. Mar. Poll. Bull. 29, 6973 (1994)
  12. Koh, L. P. & Wilcove, D. S. Cashing in palm oil for conservation. Nature 448, 993994 (2007)
  13. Giles, B. G., Ky, T. S., Hoang, H. & Vincent, A. C. J. in Topics in Biodiversity and Conservation Vol. 3 (eds Hawksworth, D. L. & Bull, A. T.) 157173 (Springer Netherlands, 2006)
  14. Lenzen, M., Murray, J., Sack, F. & Wiedmann, T. Shared producer and consumer responsibility – theory and practice. Ecol. Econ. 61, 2742 (2007)
  15. Peters, G. P., Minx, J. C., Weber, C. L. & Edenhofer, O. Growth in emission transfers via international trade from 1990 to 2008. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2011)
  16. Edwards, D. P., Fisher, B. & Wilcove, D. S. High conservation value or high confusion value? Sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation in the tropics. Conserv. Lett. 5, 2027 (2012)
  17. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. http://www.cites.org (1979)
  18. Villasante, S., Rodríguez, D., Antelo, M., Quaas, M. & Österblom, H. The Global Seafood Market Performance Index: a theoretical proposal and potential empirical applications. Mar. Policy 36, 142152 (2012)
  19. Rotherham, T. Forest management certification around the world — progress and problems. For. Chron. 87, 603611 (2011)
  20. Parsons, E. C. M. & Cornick, L. A. Sweeping scientific data under a polar bear skin rug: The IUCN and the proposed listing of polar bears under CITES Appendix I. Mar. Policy 35, 729731 (2011)
  21. Huang, A. Y., Lenzen, M., Weber, C., Murray, J. & Matthews, H. S. The role of input-output analysis for the screening of corporate carbon footprints. Econ. Syst. Res. 21, 217242 (2009)
  22. Blackman, A. & Rivera, J. Producer-level benefits of sustainability certification. Conserv. Biol. 26, 11761185 (2011)
  23. Pacala, S. & Socolow, R. Stabilization wedges: Solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies. Science 305, 968972 (2004)
  24. Ehrlich, P. R. & Pringle, R. M. Where does biodiversity go from here? A grim business-as-usual forecast and a hopeful portfolio of partial solutions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 1157911586 (2008)
  25. World Trade Organization. WTO Rules and Environmental Policies: GATT Exceptions. http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/envir_e/envt_rules_exceptions_e.htm (2012)
  26. International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. http://www.iucnredlist.org (2011)
  27. BirdLife International. Threatened Birds of the World. http://www.birdlife.org (2011)
  28. Lenzen, M., Kanemoto, K., Moran, D. & Geschke, A. The Eora Global Multi-Region Input-Output Tables. ISA, Univ. Sydney, Australia http://www.worldmrio.com (2011)
  29. Leontief, W. & Ford, D. Environmental repercussions and the economic structure: an input-output approach. Rev. Econ. Stat. 52, 262271 (1970)

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. ISA, School of Physics A28, The University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • M. Lenzen,
    • D. Moran,
    • K. Kanemoto,
    • B. Foran,
    • L. Lobefaro &
    • A. Geschke
  2. Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8579, Japan

    • K. Kanemoto
  3. Institute of Land Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, New South Wales 2640, Australia

    • B. Foran
  4. Department of Business and Law Studies, I Faculty of Economics, University of Bari Aldo Moro, 70124 Bari, Italy

    • L. Lobefaro

Contributions

M.L. and D.M. conducted the analysis and prepared the figures. M.L., D.M. and B.F. wrote the paper. K.K., L.L. and A.G. prepared the data.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to:

Author details

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. Supplementary Information (1.3M)

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures, Supplementary Tables and Supplementary References – see contents for details.

Excel files

  1. Supplementary Data (350K)

    This file contains Supplementary Data.

Additional data