Does Ecologically Unequal Exchange Occur?

Daniel D. Moran, Manfred Lenzen, Keiichiro Kanemoto, Arne Geschke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothesis of ecologically unequal exchange posits that low and middle income developing nations maintain an ecological deficit with wealthy developed nations, exporting natural resources and high impact commodities thereby allowing wealthy economies to avoid operating ecologically impactful industries at home. In this survey we assess the footprint of consumption of 187 countries using eight indicators of environmental pressure in order to determine whether or not this phenomenon occurs. We use input-output analysis with a new high resolution global Multi-Region Input-Output table to calculate each trading pair's balance of trade in biophysical terms of: GHG emissions, embodied water, and scarcity-weighted water content, air pollution, threatened species, Human Appropriated Net Primary Productivity, total material flow, and ecological footprint. We test three hypotheses that should be true if ecologically unequal exchange occurs. One: The inter-regional balance of trade in biophysical terms is disproportional to the balance of trade in financial terms. We find this is true, though not strongly so. Two: Exports from developing nations are more ecologically intensive than those from developed nations. We find this is true. Three: High-income nations disproportionately exert ecological impacts in lower income nations. We find this is false: high income nations are mostly exporters, not importers, of biophysical resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-186
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Economics
Publication statusPublished - 2013 May
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecological footprint
  • Ecologically unequal exchange
  • Embodied CO
  • International trade
  • Material flow analysis
  • MFA
  • Multi-region input-output analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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