Consumption by wealthy nations is driving environmentally hostile production in the developing world, which can threaten species and their habitats (see, for example, M. Lenzen et al. Nature 486, 109–112; 2012). But balancing this unsustainable ecological debt won't be straightforward.
Although consumption-curbing policies in wealthy nations are urgently needed, their potential for adverse effects on the development of poor countries must be taken into account. Changes in demand through international trade could compromise many livelihoods, holding back sustainable development.
Governments in the developing world can help by strengthening their regulations to eliminate environmentally damaging production techniques, with technical and financial assistance from rich nations if necessary.
In summary, possible solutions should consider the interests and needs of both developed and developing nations (see, for example, the latest United Nations report on economic development in Africa; go.nature.com/qjmusf).