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Demystifying the environmental impacts of trade: The LET Guide

News Item 2020

We have recently published our new guide on measuring the impacts of trade on the environment – The LET (Linking Environment to Trade) Guide.

Funded by Defra, this new guide takes a high-level look at the tools and techniques available to understand and measure the impacts of trade on the environment, and builds on existing compendiums and research to provide a snapshot of the current state of play.  It is designed to provide an introduction to anyone who is new to this field, and offers explanations of tools, techniques and related jargon.

Approximately 50% of food and fibre consumed in the UK is imported from other countries, and production, processing and transport of these commodities across the globe has a major impact on the environment. As consumption increases globally, pressure for countries to take responsibility for, and manage, their environmental impacts overseas is increasing. Quantifying the impact is an essential first step in allowing us to understand how and what we might do to reduce it.

The UK Government has set out its ambition in the 25-Year Plan to improve the Environment to leave a lighter footprint on the global environment and to be at the forefront of global efforts to protect and improve the natural world, driving the international community to adopt higher standards. It has launched, and received recommendations from, the Global Resource Initiative, and is now taking steps towards introducing legislation which will require larger businesses to make sure that the 'forest risk' commodities they use have been produced legally. Reducing the impacts of consumption and production also aligns with elements of international drivers such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Convention on Biodiversity’s Aichi Targets and Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework

In producing The LET Guide, we assembled and evaluated information on over 250 initiatives which link consumption to quantified production impacts, building on a list of initiatives provided by the GCRF Trade, Development & the Environment Hub.  Using this information, The Let Guide sets out 'the big picture' regarding trade and environmental impacts, and describes 'pathways' to reducing this impact. The guide also includes an extensive 'tools and techniques' section which provides high-level definitions of approaches used and directs the user to further information on relevant initiatives. 

Perhaps the most predictable yet significant finding was that interconnected and globalised communication and knowledge sharing across sectors is key to progress and achievement of sustainability goals. To this effect, we hope The LET Guide will provide an accessible introduction to the subject and the tools available to help multiple stakeholders across government, industry and the third sector reduce the UK’s impact on the environment overseas.

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