June 6, 2012 / 5:06 PM / 7 years ago

Global trade plays key role in species threats: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Nearly a third of animal species under threat in developing nations can be linked to global trade of manufactured goods and commodities such as sugar, coffee and cocoa, researchers said on Wednesday.

Policies aimed at curbing threats to species should take into account not only local producers who degrade the land but also foreign consumers who benefit from products at the expense of the habitat, said a study led by the University of Sydney.

“Excluding invasive species, we found that 30 percent of species threats are due to international trade,” said the study, published in the June 7 edition of Nature.

For example, the spider monkey is endangered and threatened by habitat loss linked to coffee and cocoa plantations in Mexico and Central America, which export their products abroad.

The United States, the European Union and Japan are the main destinations for commodities associated with species threats, while Indonesia and Malaysia are among the biggest exporters, the study found.

“To combat biodiversity loss, policies aimed at producers, traders and consumers must be implemented in parallel,” the authors wrote.

Biodiversity has decreased by an average of 28 percent globally since 1970 and the world would have to be 50 percent bigger to have enough land and forests to provide for current levels of consumption and carbon emissions, conservation group WWF said last month.


The researchers quantified the links to trade after comparing 25,000 animal species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species, with more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries.

For instance, German imports are linked to 395 species threats and Malaysian exports to 276 species threats.

“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that the important role of international trade and foreign consumption as a driver of threats to species has been comprehensively quantified,” the study said.

Many endangered species, however, suffer several threats.

The round whipray, a species of stingray, is under threat in Indonesia owing to chemical pollution and loss of its native mangrove habitat to shrimp farming, logging and coastal development.

The authors say their findings highlight the urgency for improved regulation, as well as widespread use of supply-chain certification and consumer product labeling.

“We think that widespread certification and labeling are a must,” Barney Foran, a co-author of the study told Reuters, referring to environmentally-friendly certification labels or those showing the product’s carbon footprint.

Border taxes should also be considered for implicated products, he said in an email.

“In a perfect world affluent consumers in all countries could be important players in halting biodiversity decline if they adopt a ‘values’ rather than a ‘price’ filter for most of their purchasing decisions,” he added.

Editing by Michael Perry

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