Impacts of International Trade on Global Sustainable Development



Zhenci Xu, Yingjie Li, Sophia N. Chau , Thomas Dietz, Canbing Li, Luwen Wan , Jindong Zhang , Liwei Zhang , Yunkai Li , Min Gon Chung , and Jianguo Liu  | nature sustainability

The United Nations has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets. International trade has substantial influences on global sustainability and human well-being. However, little is known about the impacts of international trade on progress towards achieving the SDG targets. Here we show that international trade positively affected global progress towards achieving nine environment-related SDG targets. International trade improved the SDG target scores of most (65%) of the evaluated developed countries but reduced the SDG target scores of over 60% of the evaluated developing countries. The SDG target scores of developed countries were higher than those of developing countries when trade was accounted for, but those scores would be lower than those of developing countries if trade were not a factor. Furthermore, trade between distant countries contributed more to achieving these global SDG targets than trade between adjacent countries. Compared with adjacent trade, distant trade was more beneficial for achieving SDG targets in developed countries, but it more negatively affected SDG target scores in developing countries. Our research suggests that enhancing the accounting for and management of virtual resources embedded in trade is essential for achieving and balancing sustainable development for all.

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