Put down that cup of coffee! A new report published in Nature has revealed that one of the main causes for the destruction of natural habitats and the potential extinction of numerous species is the developed world’s “insatiable appetite” for commodities such as tea, coffee and palm oil.

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It has long been acknowledged thathuge swaths of rainforest are cut down to provide grazing land for cattle, but this new study reveals that it is actually exported goods that are responsible for the widespread destruction of natural habitats and the knock-on effect for endangered species. The study links threats to species recorded on theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)Red List with data on trade in 15,000 commodities. It states that up to 30% of species threats are due to international trade with developed countries such as the UK and US in products grown using destructive practices.

Apart from our love of hot beverages, other imports are directly responsible for destroying certain ecosystems. The report states that the plywood Japan imports for construction often comes from Papua New Guinea, which is responsible for destroying the habitat of the critically endangered black-spotted Cuscus.

The developed world’s demand for raw materials has led to developing countries destroying their ecosystems in order to meet demand. Unsurprisingly, the consumption habits of the United States pose the most threats, followed by Japan, Germany and France. The researchers believe that as developing countries become richer, the problem will only get worse.

Speaking about the report to Nature, Edgar Hertwich, professor of energy and process engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim cited India’s ever-growing population as an example, where the middle-class is rapidly expanding. “We see what one billion rich people do. What happens when there’s five billion?” he asks.

While agreements to prevent international trade in endangered species have been in place for decades, it is hoped that the same could be done for their habitats. At the upcoming Rio+20 Earth summit, governments will discuss the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation framework (REDD) which looks to tackle climate change by applying a financial value to the carbon locked up in forests.

Putting biodiversity-footprint labels of  products is another idea (much like the carbon-footprint badges on air-freighted vegetables), but currently it is only government action that can stop it and which politician would be bold enough to pass a law that would quadruple the price of coffee in the US?

+ Nature

via BBC News

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