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This blog is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide an informal policy dialogue on ecosystem management. More >>>

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Current Issue: Intergrated Solutions for Biodiversity, Climate Change and Poverty

1: Even if we can't put a monetary value on biodiversity and the ecosystems services that it supports, it needs to be recognised that without those ecosystem services, we would not be able to maintain a given level of economic activity.

Biodiversity is the variety of all forms of life, including genes, species, populations and ecosystems. Biodiversity underpins the goods and services that ecosystems provide and has value for current uses, possible future uses (option values), and intrinsic worth.

There are between 5- 30 million distinct species on Earth; most are micro-organisms and only about 1.75 million have been formally described. Collectively, the interactions of all the components that make up the total global biodiversity set the foundations on which human society has evolved.

Humankind benefits from a multitude of resources and processes that are supplied by natural ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services and include products like clean drinking water and processes such as the decomposition of wastes. While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ecosystem services for decades, these services were popularized and their definitions formalized by the United Nations 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a four-year study involving more than 1,300 scientists worldwide.

This grouped ecosystem services into four broad categories:

  1. Provisioning, such as the production of food and water;
  2. Regulating, such as the control of climate and disease;
  3. Supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and
  4. Cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

All these services depend on biodiversity.

The need to adapt to climate change impacts is inevitable. It is already happening across the globe. Many people are using natural resources and biodiversity, including genetic diversity, as part of the adaptation process. For instance, wild relatives of food crops are used to breed new varieties that can cope with changing conditions. In many regions of the developing world, the rural poor already rely heavily on wild food sources and medicinal plants to supplement diets and maintain health. Some species are used on a daily basis; others gain in importance during periods of drought or stress. In times of need some farmers may plant crop varieties resistant to floods, drought or saline conditions. A diverse genetic base is key to producing varieties from which such characteristics can be developed.

However, people living in poor countries are disproportionately vulnerable to the loss of biodiversity and reduced ecosystem services. And although they are responsible for emitting the lowest levels of greenhouse gases, they suffer most from the impacts of climate change.

From the foregoing, how do you see the complex inter-relationship between biodiversity, climate change, and poverty?


  1. I would like to see some discussion on this blog on how countries have successfully implemented biodiversity projects and programs. I believe a lot of countries do not quite understand how to implement BioD conservation programs and measure success and progress.

  2. I agree with Deirdre's idea of focusing on making the individual elements of ecosystem management concrete before building up to optimizing the multi-objective systems.

    What would a major successful biodiversity conservation project look like, and then how would that impact poverty alleviation and climate change accelerators? Is there an implicit carrying-capacity-like density factor for successful biodiversity conservation that would require higher density urban centers with higher energy inputs?

  3. Many countries across the world - and especially local communities- are implementing biodiversity projects. Many of the countries have mechanisms in place for co-management and or community management of biological resources. Though these actions occur on relatively small scales, and can often go unrecognized, they can nonetheless have significant positive impacts on local biodiversity conditions and human wellbeing. The examples are many amongst which are:
    The Nguna-Pele Marine Protected area Network in Vanuatu, which is composed of 16 village collaborations across two islands, works to strengthen traditional governance structures while enabling more effective natural resource management. Since the initiative began in 2002 there have been significant increases in fish biomass, marine invertebrate abundance and live coral cover within the community reserves as well as an increase in villager’s average income, largely as a result of ecotourism. The network has also encouraged resurgence in local cultural linguistics traditions as the increased involvement of women and children in governance and decision making processes.
    The Tmatboey village borders the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Cambodia, an area known for its endangered bird populations such as the white-shouldered ibis. Given its proximity to the wildlife Sanctuary ecotourism is particularly important to the village. To sustainable use of the Sanctuary the Tmatboey Community Protected Area communities has, amongst other things, established a comprehensive land use plan for the village and implemented a hunting ban. As a result of the communities actions the declines of some critically endangered endemic wildlife species has stopped and has even been reversed while deforestation and encroachment into key wildlife areas has declined. As revenues from ecotourism are reinvested into local infrastructure the actions of the committee have lso helped to promote sustainable development in the village

    On the question of how success is measured, this is what we use to know success is achieved and happens in three broad areas:

    Integration of biodiversity into economic sectors ( agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, education , health etc)
    Integration into cross-sectoral policies and strategies ( finance, national development, poverty eradication etc ) and
    Integration into spatial planning, especially at the provincial/state and municipal levels