Thirty percent of the threatened species in the world are in that situation because of consumption in the developed world, according to new research from the University of Sydney.
The researchers mapped the global economy to track the trade of goods that are implicated in biodiversity loss, such as coffee, cocoa, and lumber.
“Our findings can be used to improve the regulation and product labelling of thousands of internationally traded products,” said Professor Manfred Lenzen, from the Integrated Sustainability Analysis group at the University’s School of Physics, and lead author of the study.
The study analyzed over 5 billion supply chains between consumers and 15,000 commodities produced in 187 different countries. This was then mixed with a global register of 25,000 endangered and threatened species.
“Until now these relationships have only been poorly understood. Our extraordinary number crunching, which took years of data collection and thousands of hours on a supercomputer to process, lets us see these global supply chains in amazing detail for the first time,” Professor Lenzen said.
There is a growing awareness that consumerism in people’s home countries can greatly contribute to biodiversity loss as far away as the other side of the planet. The study makes it clear that this is the case for the United States, Japan, and numerous European countries, among others.
“Among exporting countries, where the species losses actually occur, on average 35 percent of recorded threats can be linked to export-led production. In Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Honduras, this figure is 50 to 60 percent.”
As an example, in Papua New Guinea, there are 171 species listed as threatened because of export industries, such as mining, timber, coffee, and cocoa.
The researchers think that this research can be used to better protect biodiversity. They hope that sustainability labeling will become a more common practice, allowing consumer choice to influence the relevant industries.
“We shouldn’t let retailers make sustainability labels a premium product. We should ask that they always stock products that are made responsibly, from the bottom shelf to the top shelf,” said Barney Foran, a co-author of the study also from the School of Physics.
On the production side, the authors are also suggesting that companies hold foreign suppliers to the same standards as domestic suppliers. And that some sort of international standards are adopted so that producers don’t simply relocate to the countries with the loosest laws.