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War and the Collateral Damage of Nature Dependent Trade


War and the Collateral Damage of Nature Dependent Trade

By John Willis, Director of Research, Planet Tracker

Over the last decade, 40 percent of annual world trade (USD 7.6 trillion), was made up of nature dependent exports – 36 percent of which derived from non-democratic regimes, as defined by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The risks
associated with an over-dependency on non-democratic regimes, for this sector of global trade in particular, have been instantiated by the conflict in Ukraine – forcing leaders to re-assess the vulnerabilities of their current supply chains.

It is crucial that the nations that rely on non-democratic political systems for certain commodities, reconsider where they source these products from, in order to avoid similar disruptions in the future.

The commodities in danger

Natural capital, defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets, which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things, provide a wide range of services that make human life possible. For instance, nature provides both renewable (e.g. crops) and non- renewable goods (e.g. fossil fuels), which can be traded.

Annually, the global cotton trade is valued at approximately USD 269 billion. But it is not just the most valuable agricultural commodity – it is also the one most dependent on non-democratic states, with China alone accounting for 30 percent of its global trade.

The fish trade is in a similarly precarious position. It matches the meat trade in value at roughly USD 160 billion worth of annual exports, yet it is three times more dependent on non-democratic states.

As the third most dependent commodity, cereal appears at first glance to be well insulated from non-democratic governments, given that 76 percent of the trade is dependent on democratic states. However, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has brought to light the very fragile nature of trade flows. The disruption of supply chains by just one or two states can have a huge ripple effect globally, in this case making scarce commodities that are already at record prices even more costly, with poorer countries suffering disproportionately as a result.

A system on the blink

One of the primary challenges with exporting commodities lies in the friction between short-term economic goals and longer-term environmental policies. Many of the production methods taking place in these supply chains exacerbate environmental concerns,  including land and water use, the degradation of vital ecosystems and reduced biodiversity.

The global demand for natural capital is already putting pressure on limited resources, ecosystems and biodiversity, and this is rising at an unprecedented rate. But despite this, the problems associated with natural capital and those associated with the climate, continue to be separated by governments and institutions. This division is
demonstrated by the separation of two different Conferences of the Parties (COPs): one for climate change and another for biodiversity. However, climate and nature are closely interlinked. Climate change is having an effect on crop yields but also seafood catches.

Reducing emissions by growing biofuels, rather than edible crops, raises the question of whether climate should take priority over feeding the global population. The particularly alarming issue is that the countries that are the least climate resilient are also among
the biggest exporters of nature-dependent trade.

What the future holds

The global landscape is changing, and nature-dependent trade, both imports and exports, must be re-evaluated to account for this. There must also be a greater understanding of the consequences of a reliance on non-democratic actors for certain commodities.

There are many political considerations associated with food security, and as such, policies must be formed with a longer-term view in mind and acknowledge that climate change will have an effect on future sources of natural capital. Many states have been
forced to reassess trading relationships for both renewable and non-renewable goods as a result of the conflict. In doing so, this has reinforced the interwoven relationship between natural capital, biodiversity and the climate.

This is why it is essential for governments to build trading relationships with actors who share their policies, and commit to protect, not just the profits that the land provides, but to protect the land itself.

forest state

States Experiencing the Most Forest Growth

One of the most ambitious items on President Biden’s recently released climate agenda is to conserve at least 30% of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, a goal that reflects the administration’s commitment to conservation and reforestation.

It can be easy to overlook or take for granted the impact that forests have, but they are one of the planet’s most vital natural resources. The environmental benefits that forests provide to humanity is nearly incalculable, but suffice it to say that life as we know it would be impossible without our forest lands.

Forest lands process carbon dioxide and turn it into breathable oxygen, which both provides air for us to breathe and reduces the amount of CO2 contributing to the greenhouse gas effect and planetary warming. Trees also help fight flooding and soil erosion and purify air, water, and soil, all of which contribute to a healthier environment. All of these benefits for us are in addition to providing the habitat for countless species of plants and animals that promote global biodiversity.

Of course, forests have economic and commercial value as well. Timber has been an important commodity for centuries, used for fuel, construction, and the production of paper and certain textiles. However, using timber means cutting down trees and reducing the natural benefits of forested land. There is often a tension between the desires to maximize forests’ economic utility and to preserve forest lands and their role in a healthy environment.

Over the last century, the U.S. has walked a fine line in preserving its forest lands. Despite experiencing dramatic population growth—which can lead to deforestation, both to use timber and to clear land for new development—the amount of forested land in the United States has remained at around the same level over time, between 700 and 800 million acres. One contributing factor in this respect has been the U.S. Department of the Interior and its subsidiary, the U.S. Forest Service, which was created in 1905. As the federal government has grown its role in forest management through the acquisition and management of forest lands, it can ensure protection for some amount of forest while also designating some areas for timber production. Equivalent state government bodies perform a similar role.

While public forest holdings have grown, they represent a minority of the nation’s total forest lands. Currently, 42% of U.S. forest land area is designated as national forest or other public land. And because some private owners are primarily concerned with economic return on their land holdings, they may not have the same incentives for environmental preservation as public landholders do. These landowners may engage in clear-cutting or other practices that damage forest ecosystems, and if they grow new forest specifically for timber harvests, those lands may only contain one or two tree species all growing at the same age, which will limit biodiversity.

One factor affecting public and private ownership of forest lands is where America’s forests are located. Most public lands are found in the Western United States, where forested area is more scarce. In contrast, most of the highly forested areas of the U.S. are in the Northeast and South, where public ownership of land is less common. And many of those highly forested states in New England and the South have historically relied on timber production and processing as a major industry.

Forest land is not infinite, so whether as an environmental protection strategy or to reap continued economic benefits, some states see significant forest growth each year. To identify the locations with the most growth, researchers at CLIQ used data from the U.S. Forest Service to calculate the annual net growth-to-removals ratio for each state. This measure is defined as each state’s net growth (tree growth minus mortality) divided by annual removals (trees cut or diverted to non-forest). The researchers also calculated the proportion of total land area that is forested in each state, along with the number of live trees on forest land in each state.

Here are the states experiencing the most forest growth.

State Rank Net growth-to-removals ratio Annual net growth (millions cubic feet) Annual removals (millions cubic feet) Forest land area (millions acres) Proportion of land area that’s forested Number of live trees on forest land (billions)


Connecticut     1     5.62 98.5 17.5 1.76 57% 0.76
New Jersey     2     5.61 63.7 11.3 1.99 42% 0.85
Massachusetts     3     4.94 125.1 25.3 2.98 60% 1.48
New York     4     2.59 807.6 311.4 18.62 62% 11.52
Virginia     5     2.48 1,447.2 584.6 16.03 63% 11.03
Mississippi     6      2.40 2,150.2 896.8 19.20 65% 12.94
Maryland     7     2.37 132.1 55.8 2.45 39% 1.43
Iowa     8     2.35 88.4 37.5 2.88 8% 1.00
Illinois     9     2.31 173.5 75.2 4.85 14% 2.00
Tennessee     10     2.30 848.4 369.3 13.88 53% 8.39
Missouri     11     2.29 377.4 164.5 15.29 35% 7.94
Kansas     12     2.25 74.6 33.2 2.46 5% 0.81
Delaware     13     2.25 19.5 8.7 0.35 29% 0.26
Kentucky     14     2.24 598.2 266.9 12.38 49% 7.44
North Dakota     15     2.23 11.6 5.2 0.81 2% 0.34
United States     –     1.55 23,981.0 15,446.0 766.00 34% 356.00


For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on CLIQ’s website: