Why is Biodiversity Important for Development?

Biodiversity is crucial to the reduction of poverty, due to the basic goods and ecosystem services it provides. Globally, some 2.6 billion people worldwide draw their livelihoods either partially or fully from agriculture. More than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity, while over 1.6 billion rely on forests and non-timber forest products. Loss of biodiversity poses a significant threat to their livelihoods. Biodiversity must therefore be protected and sustainably used for achieving poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Source of food and income

70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biological diversity for their livelihoods. As much as 50 to 90 per cent of the total source of livelihoods of poor people is said to be from non-marketed natural goods and ecosystem services. For instance, bush meat and other edible wild animals can account for up to 85% of the protein intake of people living in or near forests. In some Asian and African countries, 80% of the population depends on traditional medicines for primary health care.

The impact of environmental degradation is most severe among the rural population living in poverty. 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.

Ecosystem 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 services” satisfies this need. For both the environmental and development communities, ecosystem services are “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems."

Ecosystem services 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.

Ecosystem services such as watershed protection, pest control, nutrient cycling and pollination sustain productivity in agricultural ecosystems. When those are 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. Since ecosystem functions provide the conditions and drive the processes that sustain the global economy and our very survival, their disruption can have dire repercussions for the world economy.

Most ecosystem services are defined as “public goods” or “common resources”. As such, they are difficult to incorporate into markets. But efforts are being made to overcome this through substantial and effective environmental mainstreaming processes.

For instance, the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) Report, 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 provides a worldwide evaluation of the costs of biodiversity loss and of the associated decline in ecosystem services. These costs are compared with the costs of effective conservation and sustainable use.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme