Valuing Biodiversity as a Key Driver of Sustainable Development

April 5, 2018

Robert Davis / World Bank


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, many of which 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 yearThe 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. 


The World Bank is one of the largest international financiers of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use with a portfolio of 241 projects worth over US$1.25 billion in the 10 years from FY2006 to 2016.

Through the application of its safeguards policies , recently updated to strengthen development outcomes, the World Bank also integrates biodiversity concerns into all of its investment projects.

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 work across economic sectors and improve their administration of natural resources to better conserve and sustainably use their biodiversity. We invest in those aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem services—such as watershed management, integrated coastal zone 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.

The World Bank is increasingly supporting its country clients to implement a more integrated landscape approach that moves beyond single-sector interventions to consider the resilience of both ecosystems and livelihoods. This support comes out of recognition that it is the most efficient thing to do given the complex inter-linkages among the different components of natural capital and, most importantly, it is essential for the communities that live in a reality in which all is connected: that is, in the landscape.

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.


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. and the new Regional Amazon Landscape Program financed by GEF and covering Brazil, Colombia and Peru. 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.

Ensuring biodiversity considerations are factored into World Bank infrastructure projects is another key area of work. For example, in the Malawi Shire Valley Transformation Project, the main irrigation canal will include a tall, permanent drop structure to prevent the possibility that invasive fish species could enter Lake Malawi, a globally renowned freshwater ecosystem with hundreds of fish species found nowhere else. 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 iSimangaliso Wetland  Park, a strategic US$9 million investment led to the ecological restoration of Lake St. Lucia, South Africa’s largest estuary and a World Heritage Site. This innovative protected area project also provides a model for effective benefits-sharing with local communities, as well as for resolving pending land claims in ways that do not damage the Park’s biodiversity or tourism value.  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.


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.

The Bank is the lead agency of the  Global Partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development, a US$131 million grant program by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that is active in 19 countries.  The program focuses on designing and implementing national strategies to help countries secure their wildlife resources, habitats, and the benefits they derive from them while also reducing poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) launched in 2010 brings together Interpol, the CITES SecretariatWorld 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 have been working extensively in Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar, and the Philippines.

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.

Together with the GEF, the Smithsonian Institution, Save the Tiger Fund and the International Tiger Coalition, the World Bank was a founder of the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) to save tigers and snow leopards from extinction.


Last Updated: Apr 05,2018


Elephants in Niassa, Mozambique. Photo by Colleen Begg / World Bank

Colleen Begg / World Bank



Adriana Gonçalves Moreira

Senior Environmental Specialist, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank