Animal, plant and marine biodiversity comprise the "natural capital" that keeps our ecosystems functional and economies productive. But the world is experiencing a dramatic loss of biodiversity. Although the pace of deforestation has slowed globally since the 1990s, it remains high with annual deforestation of about 13 million hectares, affecting critical animal and plant habitats. The world has also lost about 40% of warm water coral reefs since the 1980s. The Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures trends in selected species populations, shows an overall decline of 52% over the last 40 years, with particularly dramatic losses in tropical developing countries, mainly as a result of habitat loss, degradation, and overexploitation.

The loss of biodiversity has negative effects on livelihoods, water supply, food security and resilience to extreme events. It has consequences for 78% of the world’s extreme poor who live in rural areas and rely on ecosystems and the goods they produce to make a living. The World Bank estimates that crimes affecting natural resources and the environment inflict damage on developing countries worth more than $70 billion a year. The loss of coral reefs has significant physical and economic consequences for 350 million people living in coastal areas by reducing coastal protection and habitat for fish. Deforestation and land conversion contribute about 30% of global greenhouse emissions, and the loss of diversity reduces the resilience of ecosystems to climate change and other disturbances. Environmental degradation and disasters—manifested by floods, droughts, erosion and sedimentation—threaten large-scale infrastructure investments in hydropower, irrigation or coastal defenses.

Last Updated: Sep 09,2015

The World Bank is one of the largest international financiers of biodiversity conservation with a portfolio of 229 projects worth over US$1 billion in the 10 years from FY2006 to 2015. These projects have been undertaken in 120 countries, with the majority in Africa and the Latin America and Caribbean region.

The World Bank works with countries to put policies in place so that biodiversity is valued as a key driver of sustainable development. We help countries improve their administration to better conserve and sustainably use their biodiversity. We invest in those aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem services—such as watershed management and protected areas—that help countries achieve their development goals. We also help countries find ways to generate revenues from biodiversity—including through tourism or payments for environmental services—that will cover the cost of managing their biodiversity and improve economies. The World Bank Group works closely with partners on issues including wildlife crime, forest governance, and the oceans.

World Bank biodiversity projects range from support to protected areas, institution building, integrating biodiversity conservation into production landscapes, designing sustainable financing schemes for conservation to promoting nature-based tourism and fighting wildlife crime.

Last Updated: Sep 09,2015

The World Bank's work toward protecting biodiversity includes establishing and expanding protected area systems, such as the Amazon Region Protected Areas program (ARPA) in Brazil. The program has helped protect around 60 million hectares of rainforest. A study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences credits ARPA with a 37% decrease in deforestation between 2004 and 2009. The Bank is also applying the lessons learned from this experience into a new project in Brazil that aims to triple the marine area under protection while directly benefiting 800,000 people.

Co-management of biodiverse areas is important for wildlife conservation. The Kenya Wildlife Conservation Leasing Demonstration Project, for example, has been successful in helping to ensure the long-term ecological viability of Nairobi National Park by providing wildlife access to adjacent areas. Nearly 400 households with some 22,000 hectares of land signed up to receive rent for not fencing off their land and allowing wildlife to roam.

Ensuring biodiversity considerations are factored into World Bank infrastructure projects is another key area of work. For example, in Honduras, a Rural Roads Project included the establishment of a 2,000 ha protected area for the Honduran Emerald, an endemic hummingbird that was being threatened by the paving and widening of a road. In Laos, the Nam Theun II hydroelectricity project led to the establishment of a major new national protected area along the watershed of the Nakai River.

The Bank also makes investments that support the long-term viability of biodiverse areas, and helps establish institutions that safeguard natural capital. In South Africa’s Greater Addo Elephant National Park, a US$5.5 million investment spurred US$14.5 million in private sector investment and the creation of 614 jobs. The Coastal & Biodiversity Management Project in Guinea-Bissau helped establish the autonomous Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP), to manage the country’s network of protected areas and endangered species. The project helped conserve 480,000 hectares of its coastal zone (13 % of the territory), together with local communities. These protected areas are considered national assets and are intended to form the backbone of a future tourism industry.

Last Updated: Sep 09,2015

Multi-stakeholder partnerships are an important aspect of the World Bank’s environmental engagement as they pool expertise, access, and resources. These partnerships comprise public sector, private sector, multi-lateral and civil society actors to advance collective action on some of the world’s most pressing biodiversity challenges.

Launched in 2015, the Global Partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development is a US$90 million grant program by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). As lead agency, the Bank coordinates the partnership of the Asian Development Bank, International Union for Conservation of Nature, United Nations Development Program, United Nations Environment Program, the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund. The partnership will focus on designing and implementing national strategies to help countries secure their wildlife resources, habitats and the benefits they derive from them and reduce poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.  It will support international efforts to stop the environmental and social crises generated by the poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking between Africa and Asia.

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) launched in 2010 brings together Interpol, the CITES Secretariat, World Customs Union and UNODC with the World Bank to promote effective law enforcement nationally and internationally in support of sustainable development and equitable benefit-sharing for the proceeds from sustainable natural resource management. The ICCWC also provides training in investigative techniques to judges, lawyers, and customs and wildlife officials worldwide.

Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) is a World Bank–facilitated global partnership that promotes sustainable development by mainstreaming natural resources into a country’s development planning and system of national accounting. WAVES has been working extensively in Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar, and the Philippines.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) was launched in 2000, with World Bank financing, to provide grants to non-governmental and private sector organizations to support key biodiversity areas inside protected areas and across production landscapes. To date, CEPF has provided over $192 million to more than 2,000 civil society organizations across 23 lobal biodiversity hotspots.

The Save Our Species Program combines the financial weight and technical expertise of the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility, the authoritative science of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the resources and ingenuity of the private sector to ensure that funding goes to species conservation projects for the greatest impact.

Last Updated: Sep 09,2015

Biodiversity in the Sundarbans

Protecting India's Coastline

The World Bank-financed Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project, part of India's national coastal zone management program, seeks to balance development with the protection of the country's vulnerable ecosystems, including its mangroves and coral reefs.

More Photos »