Building Biodiversity-Friendly Economies

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Coordinator, Clean Energy Transitions ProgrammeInternational Energy Agency (IEA)
25 February 2018

We are losing diversity of life on Earth at an alarming rate – one tenth of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and one third of freshwater biodiversity has been wiped out since 1970. And we’re on course to lose another 10% of terrestrial species by 2050.

Biodiversity includes all forms of life as well as ecosystems such as forests, oceans and wetlands. We depend on healthy ecosystems for our basic needs from clean air, water, food, energy and materials. It’s easy to agree that with such high stakes, action to protect the diversity of life on earth is vital. But where do we start and how do we get everyone on board? Almost every sector of our economy puts pressure on biodiversity. The use of land for agriculture, commercial forestry and urban development is taking up more and more of our natural capital. Over-exploitation of resources such as soils and fish stocks, the pollution from our factories and cars and the effects of climate change are all major threats to biodiversity.

Designating protected areas is not enough. We must also sustainably use our planet’s resources in areas where we live and work and promote ecologically viable production and consumption patterns. Since productive sectors – be it agriculture, fisheries or industry – depend on and affect biodiversity, biodiversity considerations need to be built into our economies and development trajectories at all levels of decision-making.

This “mainstreaming” of biodiversity depends on coherent policies across sectors. Mainstreaming was brought to the international spotlight during the last Conference of the Parties (COP13) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2016 in Mexico, where countries committed to mainstream biodiversity in all sectors and at all levels of government and started with a focus on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism.


So, how might mainstreaming work in practice? What concrete steps can we take?

We need better, up-to-date data to inform policy responses. Robust and policy relevant data and information are required to make strategic and measurable progress. In South Africa, geospatial mapping of biodiversity has provided a backdrop for decision-making that accounts for the long-term impact that land use has on our ecosystems. In Australia, fish stocks managed by the government were found at a healthy level in 2016, following yearly independent evaluations of the biological, economic and environmental status of fish stocks, which enabled timely measures to prevent overfishing.

Governments must take immediate action to reform incentives harmful to biodiversity and scale up positive incentives. In agriculture, as in other sectors, policies should promote the efficient use of resources and ensure that prices reflect their scarcity and the cost of environmental impacts. An area requiring urgent action is removal or reform of  incentives harmful to biodiversity (for e.g. tax reduction or exemption on fuels for fishing vessels or subsidies for products driving forest cover loss). So far, few countries have taken steps towards identifying incentives to be tackled. In France, a national report on the environmental impact of public budgetary or fiscal assistance now provides the basis for reviewing subsidies in place.

Seizing windows of opportunity to drive change is important. Policy revisions, new funding opportunities or emerging production sector needs can provide the appropriate conditions for change. In Switzerland, a push from reforms in agriculture policy to meet the WTO “Green Box” criteria, along with active lobbying by environmental NGOs and a conducive political environment under Green Liberal Party, presented such a window of opportunity. Consequently, the agricultural policy (2014-17) was leveraged as an important component of the Swiss biodiversity strategy and direct payments to farmers were better aligned with policy goals that promote species and habitat diversity in agriculture.

Strong links to other development objectives can bolster support and viability of mainstreaming efforts. Brazil’s federal programme Bolsa Floresta provides an example. This initiative compensates traditional and local families living in sustainable development reserves for their environmental conservation efforts (such as limiting the amount of forested lands cleared for farmland). The programme has had positive impacts on the quality of life and biodiversity conservation in these communities. Income and access to healthcare and education have increased for 86% of the surveyed families. What's more, deforestation was found to have decreased faster in protected areas participating in the programme than in others.


Much work remains to be done to halt biodiversity loss.

A mid-term assessment on progress towards achieving the global Aichi Targets under the Strategic Plan for biodiversity (2011-2020) shows that despite the many initiatives being undertaken around the world, we have a long way to go to effectively conserve, restore and sustainably use biodiversity.

OECD work on mainstreaming biodiversity and development  documents some of the ongoing efforts and aims to present lessons learnt and good practices at national and sector levels. This work also covers insights into the role of development co-oporation in biodiversity mainstreaming and explores possible indicators to monitor and evaluate mainstreaming efforts.


The world is watching.

The focus on mainstreaming will continue at CBD COP 14 in Egypt in November 2018, where Parties will consider how to mainstream biodiversity into energy, mining, infrastructure, manufacturing and processing, and human health.

While the opportunity to meet the Aichi Targets before 2020 is fast closing, renewed, strategic action to conserve and sustainably use our natural resources is as crucial as ever. Unless we can build biodiversity-friendly economies, we will saw off the branch we are sitting on.


Related links:

OECD work on biodiversity

OECD work on mainstreaming biodiversity




The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the GGKP or its Partners.