Biodiversity Loss is A Development Issue: A rapid review of evidence

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April 2019
International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

This report, Biodiversity Loss is A Development Issue: A rapid review of evidence, unpicks misunderstandings and sets out the evidence that biodiversity loss is much more than an environmental problem – it is an urgent development challenge. The biodiversity crisis is a development crisis and demands an engaged response from the development community.

Biodiversity isn’t just iconic and charismatic wildlife, it is the diversity of life, from genes and micro-organisms to top predators and whole ecosystems. We depend on biodiversity for everything from clean air and water to medicines (modern and traditional) and secure food supplies in the face of changing climate. Biodiversity loss already challenges development gains in many ways. It can mean fewer wild foods, reduced nutritional security, poorer pollination, and less productive and resilient agricultural systems. It can bring higher exposure to agri-chemicals, reduced access to traditional medicines and lost opportunities for drug development, as well as translating into higher disease burdens. Lost ecosystem services can affect genderspecific labour burdens (for example where women walk further for fuel or clean water). Biodiversity loss can also make private sector investments more risky. And as for climate change, biodiversity loss compromises adaptive capacity, exacerbates natural disasters, and often reduces carbon storage.

When we allow biodiversity loss, we accept losing all biodiversity’s potential benefits, for example the largely unexplored toolkit biodiversity offers for building resilience to climate change. Many development projects already try to ‘climate proof’ investments. Development projects and private sector investments need to be ‘nature-proofed’ to ensure they don’t contribute to, or exacerbate, biodiversity loss. And where they do potentially impact on biodiversity, steps need to be taken to address that impact. And we should go further. Development projects should proactively invest in biodiversity for climate change resilience. However, ‘nature-based solutions’ to development challenges must actively protect diversity, not just nature, because intensive monoculture approaches, while potentially productive at first, don’t offer the same wide-ranging and flexible services as natural systems and are vulnerable to climatic shocks, pests and diseases.