Trade in natural and agricultural goods has long been a key part of economic growth - but not all growth is sustainable. Removing too many wild animals or plants can cause populations to decline and ultimately crash. Clearing land for crops also removes important habitat for wildlife and threatens water, air and soil resources.
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.
This degradation 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 we depend upon. A thriving, diverse nature can much better clean water, keep down pests and diseases, and provide food and raw materials.
To protect our natural environment and support human development, as well as reach international ambitions such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, we must take steps to make trade more sustainable.
This project is one of twelve research hubs funded by this year’s £200m UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF), 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, please visit their 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, Cameroon, China, 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, academia, 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.”
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.”
You can find out more on the project’s Featured Work page on our website.
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.
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.