Trade benefits developed countries environmentally, but hurts developing countries

A ship is shown as it moves goods through the Panama Canal. Photo by Sue Nichols/MSU
A ship is shown as it moves goods through the Panama Canal. Photo by Sue Nichols/MSU

July 13 (UPI) -- Researchers said Monday that international trade bodes well for developed countries' environmental sustainability, but has the opposite effect on developing countries.

Their new study, titled "Impacts of international trade on global sustainable development," was published Monday in Nature Sustainability. It analyzed this issue by looking at sustainable development goals (SDG) with environment-related targets that the United Nations has adopted.


The study showed that international trade helped developed countries like the United States, Canada and Europe, but harmed Russia and part of East Asia, a Michigan State University statement said.

International trade improved the SDG target scores of most -- 65 percent -- of the developed countries analyzed, but reduced the SDG target scores of 60 percent of developing countries, scientists from the United States and China said in the study.

Scientists analyzed the impact of international trade starting in 1995 on nine SDG targets related to goals to address the following environmental issues: sustainable water use, energy, economic growth, industrialization, consumption and production, and combating climate change.

Trade can help save local environmental resources, but transfers production burdens to exporters, according to researchers. For instance, if the United States buys wooden furniture from southeast Asia that could help U.S. forests, but harm southeast Asia through deforestation and biodiversity loss.


Another example researchers noted was related to carbon emissions.

From 1990-2008, international trade displaced 16 Gt of carbon dioxide from developed to developing counties, the research paper noted. This stabilized carbon emissions for the most part in developed countries, but caused carbon emissions in developing countries to double.

The study is the first to examine international trade's impact on the United Nations SDG, said co-lead author Zhenci Xu, a University of Michigan research associate and former PhD student at MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability in the MSU statement.

"As the countries connected with each other more in the globalization area, understanding how trade shapes progress toward national and global sustainable development can provide useful information for policy making aiming at achieving SDGs together," Xu added.

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