Biodiversity’s Role

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: linking biodiversity and sustainable development

In order to link biodiversity considerations with poverty eradication and sustainable development, 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” provides such a language as it describes “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. To learn more about the language of ecosystem services visit the website of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme