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.

Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) foraging and feeding in termite mound, Mato Grosso, Brazil. An example of a species under threat from trade and development. Photo: Gabrielle Therin-Weise / Getty Images

The Challenge

This degradation of the world’s ecosystems 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 humans depend upon. A thriving, diverse nature can much better clean water, keep down pests and diseases, and provide food and raw materials.

To protect the natural environment and support human development, as well as reach international ambitions such as the Sustainable Development Goals  and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets , steps must be taken to make trade more sustainable.

Identifying impacts and providing solutions

UNEP-WCMC , leads the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF) Trade, Development and the Environment Hub, and over 50 partner organisations from 15 different countries, including SEI. The Hub’s aim is to help make sustainable trade a positive force in the world.

SEI’s work focuses on the impact of the trade of specific goods, and 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:

  • live animals
  • animal skins
  • wild meat
  • bamboo and rattan
  • beef
  • cocoa
  • coffee
  • palm oil
  • rubber
  • soy beans
  • sugar

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.

Designing sustainable trade policies

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.