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Why is biodiversity important for development?

Source of food and income

The world’s poor, particularly in rural areas, depend on biological resources for as much as 90% of their needs, including food, fuel, medicine, shelter and transportation.

70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biological diversity for their livelihoods. Biodiversity serves as an important source of food and income to rural households and is an important source of alternative foods during periods of scarcity.

The impact of environmental degradation is most severe among the rural population living in poverty, since they have few livelihood options. Therefore, access to and sustainable use of biodiversity by the poor are of direct relevance to efforts aimed at poverty reduction. Addressing the biodiversity challenge needs to be at the heart of international cooperation for sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Ecosystems, Goods and Services: a crucial role

In order to link biodiversity considerations with poverty eradication, the environmental community and the stakeholders who specifically deal with the economic and social dimensions of development need a common framework, a common language. The concept of “Ecosystem Goods and Services” (EGS) satisfies this need. For both the environmental and development communities, EGS are, simply and unanimously “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems."

These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth.

EGS such as watershed protection, pest control, nutrient cycling and pollination sustain productivity in agricultural ecosystems. When impaired or degraded, extreme poverty and hunger are more difficult to address and to overcome. In the long term, the loss of biodiversity that results in a reduction of crop and livestock genetic diversity and in the decreased availability of wild biological resources, threatens food security for the whole population.

Most EGS are defined as “public goods” in plain economic terms. As such they are difficult to incorporate into markets, but it is widely believed that it is now time to overcome this through substantial and effective environmental mainstreaming processes.

Sustaining the economy and generating income

At the ecosystem level, biodiversity provides the conditions and drives the processes that sustain the global economy – and our very survival. Disrupting the diversity of plant and animal life can have dire repercussions for the world economy.

If there is growing awareness on the value and importance of biodiversity, there is a lack of consensus on how it can be measured. Biodiversity offers the potential to place unique products on the market and to generate income for local communities. Many of these products are very valuable yet their sale seldom benefits the people who harvest them.

Find out more under the Trade and Incentive Measures WebPages

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative , often compared to the Stern Report on the cost of climate change, draws attention to the local and global benefits of biodiversity and to the social and economic costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The study will provide a worldwide evaluation of the costs of biodiversity loss and of the associated decline in ecosystem services. These costs will be compared with the costs of effective conservation and sustainable use. Led by UNEP, TEEB is funded by several governments.

TEEB’s first report presents the results of an analysis on the costs of biodiversity loss in forest ecosystems and of ecosystem services stemming from forests.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme