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 year. 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 Fiscal Year 2006 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 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 also works with a wide range of stakeholders to tackle the rising toll of illegal wildlife trade by calling for increased financing and efforts to reduce demand in consumer countries.
World Bank biodiversity projects range from support to protected areas, institution building, integrating biodiversity conservation into production landscapes, to designing sustainable financing schemes for conservation, and promoting nature-based tourism.
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.
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, 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. In Paraguay, a World Bank and GEF project implemented by ITAIPU Binational, the largest hydroelectric generator in the planet in coordination with Paraguay’s ministry of environment, led to the creation of the Atlantic Forest Corridor that extends over a 1 million hectares in Eastern Paraguay. The project introduced sustainable land use practices on 125,000 hectares and restored 36,000 hectares, contributing to better connectivity between protected areas and private forestland, conservation of biodiversity and improved local livelihoods for farmers and indigenous peoples who benefit from better land use practices, agroforestry, organic certification, and honey and yerba mate production.
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) active in 19 countries. The program focuses on designig 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 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 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.