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Biodiversity Overview

Animal, plant and marine biodiversity comprise the "natural capital" that keeps our ecosystems functional. Healthy ecosystems allow us to survive, get enough food to eat, and make a living. But the world is experiencing a dramatic loss of biodiversity.Although the pace of deforestation has slowed in globally since the 1990s, it remains high with annual deforestation of about 13 million hectares. The world has also lost about 40% of warm water coral reefs since the 1980s. The Living Planet Index, which monitors selected species populations, has declined by 30% globally, and by almost 60% in developing countries in the tropics, which account for the greatest share of global biodiversity.

The loss of biodiversity has negative effects on livelihoods, clean water supply, food security and resilience to environmental disasters. It has consequences for 75% of the world’s poor—some 870 million people—who live in rural areas and rely on ecosystems and the goods they produce to make a living. Water provision is one of the most vital ecosystem services that biodiversity can help ensure, yet about 2.7 billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month per year. The loss of coral reefs has significant negative 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 disturbances. Environmental degradation and disasters—manifested by floods, erosion and sedimentation—threaten large-scale infrastructure investments in hydropower, irrigation or coastal defenses.

Last Updated: Mar 28,2014

The World Bank is one of the largest international financiers of biodiversity conservation with a portfolio of 245 projects worth US$1.058 billion in the 10 years from FY2004 to 2013. These projects have been undertaken in 74 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 payments for environmental services—that will cover the cost of managing their biodiversity and improve economies.

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 tourism and fighting wildlife crime and invasive alien species. 

Last Updated: Mar 28,2014

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 70 million hectares of rainforest. A study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences credits ARPA with a 37 percent decrease in deforestation between 2004 and 2009.

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. The Acre Social and Economic Inclusion and Sustainable Development project has helped the state government engage communities in expanding sustainable forest management practices. Better land use planning has enabled the protection of forests and natural habitats. Real GDP has increased by over 44 percent and deforestation rates have declined by 70 percent.

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 World Bank Group works closely with partners on issues including tiger habitat, wildlife crime, forest governance, and the oceans. The Bank's investments to protect the oceans include a US$4.9 million grant with GEF to Namibia to help establish a strong platform for governance of the coastal land and seascape and for development of a National Policy on Coastal Management, which was approved in 2012.

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 percent 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: Mar 28,2014

Multi-stakeholder partnerships are an increasingly 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 environmental challenges.

The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) is a global alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society, the conservation and scientific community, and the private sector committed to working together toward a common agenda to save wild tigers from extinction. The GTI Secretariat, based at the World Bank in Washington, DC, assists 13 tiger range countries to carry out their conservation strategies and drive the global tiger conservation agenda, through planning, coordination, and continuous communication.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) was launched in 2000 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 $137 million to more than 1,600 civil society organizations across 17 global 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.

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.

The Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO) is a convening platform that can help to reduce the barriers for countries to access the capital and technical assistance they need to restore ocean health and address poverty. Made up of partners from government, the private sector, and multi-lateral and civil society organizations, it helps mobilize the knowledge, financing and capacity needed to implement the solutions that countries want and lead.

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.

Last Updated: Mar 28,2014
Biodiversity in the Sundarbans

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. Read More »

Around The Bank Group

Find out what the Bank Group's branches are doing on biodiversity.