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Andrew Burger headshot

World Bank Highlights Biodiversity's Central Role in Alleviating Poverty


It may seem quaint to some, but at a fundamental level, there are ethical, moral, even spiritual motives for we humans to do our best to conserve wilderness, ecosystems and biodiversity. Then, of course, there are the most pragmatic and self-interested: all our economic activities and the health and well-being of all our societies is dependent on healthy ecosystems, and biological diversity is central to assuring health ecosystems.

Though perhaps best known, and criticized, for bankrolling development of large-scale infrastructure projects such as coal-fired and hydroelectric power plants, the World Bank has likewise been instrumental in helping conserve biodiversity and sustainably utilize the numerous and varied services diverse ecosystems provide.

The World Bank has also been a key agent in helping realize the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Though results to date are very much mixed, researchers, agents and policy makers have found that there are ways of achieving the MDG goals that are self-reinforcing and effective. Such synergy exists, for instance, when it comes to achieving two MDGs: reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Biodiversity conservation and alleviating poverty

The ongoing existence and success of our species rests on some 4 billion years of evolution of life on Earth, and the interaction of all that life with Earth's physical, inorganic environment. Our ability to survive, much less thrive, is predicated on the health of ecosystems, the services they provide, and our ability to act in harmony with the self-regulating processes manifest in nature.

The World Bank makes the point simply and succinctly:

“Animal, plant and marine biodiversity keeps ecosystems functional. Healthy ecosystems allow us to survive, get enough food to eat and make a living.”
There's a direct linkage between the MDG goals of conserving biodiversity, maintaining the health and integrity of ecosystems, and alleviating poverty. It's estimated that nearly half the world's human population – more than 3 billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day.

At least 80 percent live on less than $10 a day, and the income gap is widening globally: More than 80 percent of the world's population lives in countries where income differentials are widening. Some 75 percent of the world's impoverished, moreover, live in rural areas and depend on nature for their water, food and livelihoods.

As the World Bank states:

“The loss of iconic species is a tragedy with broad and deep impact. Animal, plant and marine biodiversity keeps ecosystems functional. Healthy ecosystems allow us to survive, get enough food to eat and make a living. When species disappear or fall in number, ecosystems and people—especially the world’s poorest—suffer.”

But you can't eat scenery, or can you?

All well and good, but in a day and age of less and less in the way of government-sponsored public infrastructure and services, there isn't any private profit motive in conserving biodiversity, or alleviating poverty for that matter, is there? The World Bank, along with other international organizations, national governments, NGOs and local communities, has been stepping into the breach.

As JustMeans' Vikas Vij writes in a recent blog post:

"The World Bank has actively invested more than $1 billion to protect nature and wildlife. The Bank is also the largest provider of development assistance to fight environment and natural resources crime, with $300 million invested in forestry, fisheries and wildlife law enforcement. At a time when habitats are disappearing and poaching is on the rise, collective action to protect biodiversity has become crucial."
Throughout the world, countries are being threatened by the degradation and loss of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems and biodiversity, poverty, and growing disparities in income and economic opportunities. Ironically, it's often economic development often brings this about.

Well aware of this seeming paradox, the World Bank since 1988 has invested $4 billion in biodiversity projects. That's spurred another $4 billion in co-financing.

With the MDG end date of 2015 right around the corner and the U.N. in the midst of formulating a succeeding, post-2015 agenda centered on sustainable development, the multilateral development bank is working to raise the profile, and the stakes, of its biodiversity and poverty alleviation initiatives. As the World Bank explains:

“Developing country partners are increasingly aware that biodiversity and ecosystem services can be an engine for inclusive green growth and an important part of the solution to emerging global challenges, from climate change to food insecurity. It has also been learned—through long and often hard experience—that good nature conservation is possible.
“Conservation can also be affordable and cost-effective as well as beneficial to poor communities when it is done right. To do it right—especially in an era of diminishing public expenditures for biodiversity conservation—innovation, communication and effective partnerships are needed between governments, communities, financial institutions, companies and conservation organizations.”

The "Greening Development" environment strategy

At the core of such efforts, forging “green, clean, resilient” development paths is the driving theme of the “World Bank Group Environment Strategy 2012-2022.” Key to realizing the goals expressed in its environment strategy, the World Bank is taking a wide range of steps, including:
  • Greening national income accounts by working with organizations such as the Global Partnership on Wealth Accounting of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) to strengthen and intensify efforts to support countries factoring natural capital into economic decision-making.
  • Building partnerships that span government, science groups, businesses, NGOs, legal and law enforcement and others with the aim of strengthening the institutional and legal frameworks for formulating, assessing, implementing and enforcing actions that address biodiversity loss and improverishment.
  • Establishing and expanding protected area systems through programs such as the Amazon Region Protected Areas program in Brazil, and a similar effort to protect the Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest in Liberia.
  • Engaging communities in co-management, including initiatives such as Pakistan's Protected Areas Management Project and the Wildlife Conservation Leasing Demonstration Project in Kenya.


Image and graphic courtesy of the World Bank

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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