Making trade a force for good


UN Environment and partners gathered in Cambridge this week to kick-start a new project aiming to make trade a positive force for both nature conversation and marginalised people.

The launch event brought together project partners and stakeholders to kick off a five-year global research collaboration under the leadership of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). The project will look at how trade affects biodiversity from a biophysical, social, political and economic point of view. The role of UN Environment’s Environment and Trade Hub will be to ensure policy relevance and uptake of the research by decision-makers who are designing and negotiating trade agreements. This will ensure that the project translates results into real-world impacts.

Commodities such as palm oil, which can be found in about 50% of products sold in supermarkets, are deeply engrained in today’s global consumption patterns. Although lesser known, a huge proportion of our way of life, whether for medicine, construction or food, is reliant upon wildlife products. As these products only originate in a few countries or regions worldwide, the supply of these products that form part of our every-day life relies on global trade flows.

The trade of wild species and crops has incredible potential for creating long-term jobs and boosting economic growth, particularly in low and middle-income countries. More often, however, intensive use causes entire populations of wild animals or plants to crash, and demand for agricultural land for crops removes natural habitat for wildlife.

This degradation of nature has very real knock-on effects for marginalised people – if a forest is cleared for farms owned by large corporations, there is nothing left to live upon. This unsustainable harvest of resources also increases the chance of the world failing to meet international ambitions such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

To identify and implement solution pathways to address this global challenge, the UNEP-WCMC-led alliance is setting up one of twelve research hubs funded by this year’s £200m UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF). The UKRI GCRF is a key supporter of the UK AID strategy which places UK-led research at the heart of efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (for more information about UKRI and the GCRF Hubs, visit the UK Research and Innovation website).

Over the next five years the project, called the UKRI GCRF Trade, Development and the Environment Hub, will trace the trade of wildlife, wild meat and agricultural goods from their origin in eight countries, and then throughout the entire world: Brazil, China, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Republic of Congo, and Tanzania.  

These country-level results will then be linked within a global modelling framework to look at different possible trade futures and how these might benefit or impact on marginalised people and nature.  The Hub will then be able to look at the UK trade relations and dependencies, and how trade decisions that we take in the coming years can be a positive force for sustainably living on this planet.

Professor Neil Burgess, Principal Investigator for the Hub and Chief Scientist at UNEP-WCMC said: “We are extremely excited to start work on this Hub. Trade is one of the most powerful forces of our time, with the ability to sustain global livelihoods as well as harm vulnerable people, destroy habitats and drive species closer to extinction.

“We’ll be working with over 50 amazing organisations from 15 different countries representing industry, trade agencies, academic, governments and civil society, giving us an unprecedented breadth of knowledge and experience. Together, I am confident that we can move us towards a system that supports people and the planet.”

Anja von Moltke who is heading the trade work at UN Environment said: “Trade has been an engine for economic growth for a long time. But we know that trade needs to do more. It needs to create social equity and promote a healthy environment. Making trade a force for sustainable development requires more knowledge, sound policies and the alignment of economic, social and environmental aspects of trade. 30% of global species threats can be linked to global trade – it is time to reverse this trend and enhance the positive impacts of trade. Therefore, we are very much looking forward to starting this project and jointly delivering cutting-edge science and policy solutions at the trade, nature and development nexus.”

Announcing the 12 UKRI GCRF Hubs alongside 16 other international research partnerships, Science and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore, said: “The UK has a reputation for globally influential research and innovation, and is at the centre of a web of global collaboration – showing that science has no borders.

“We have a strong history of partnering with other countries – over 50% of UK authored research involves collaborations with international partners.

“The projects being announced today reinforce our commitment to enhance the UK’s excellence in innovation at home and around the world, driving high-skilled jobs, economic growth and productivity as part of the modern Industrial Strategy.”

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI Champion for International, said: “The sheer scale and ambition of these Hubs is what makes them so exciting. They enable us to deliver a coordinated global response with UK researchers working in partnership with researchers, governments, NGOs, community groups and international agencies across developing countries. Each Hub has the potential to transform the quality of life for multitudes throughout the world and safeguard our planet for future generations.”


About UK Research and Innovation

UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.

About Global Challenges Research Fund

The Global Challenges Research Fund supports cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries. It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need.

It is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through nine delivery partners including UK Research and Innovation, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and other funding bodies.

About UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)
UNEP-WCMC confronts the challenges faced by our world’s biodiversity with knowledge, innovation and leadership. In partnership with UN Environment and based in Cambridge, the UK’s conservation capital, we connect science, policy and society. Our access and influence empowers decision makers to create positive and sustainable impact for people and nature.

To read more information, click here.

WCMC is a UK charity, based in Cambridge, which supports the United Nations Environment Programme. We work in collaboration with UNEP, under the banner of UNEP-WCMC. Our mission is to evaluate and highlight the many values of biodiversity and put authoritative biodiversity knowledge at the centre of decision-making.