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Biodiversity & Human Well-being

6. What actions can be taken to conserve biodiversity?

  • 6.1 How do protected areas benefit biodiversity and humans?
  • 6.2 Can economic incentives benefit biodiversity and local communities?
  • 6.3 How can invasive species be addressed?
  • 6.4 How do protected areas benefit biodiversity and humans?
  • 6.5 What governance approaches can promote biodiversity conservation?
  • 6.6 What are the key factors of success of conservation actions?
  • 6.7 How could important drivers of biodiversity loss be addressed?

6.1 How do protected areas benefit biodiversity and humans?

Protected areas are an essential part of conservation programs, particularly for sensitive habitats. However, these areas alone are not sufficient to ensure the conservation of the full range of biodiversity.

For protected areas to be successful, sites need to be carefully chosen while making sure that different types of ecosystems are well represented. In many cases, geographic areas may be labeled as a protected area without sufficient management planning, monitoring and evaluation, and budgets for security and law enforcement. Marine and freshwater ecosystems are even less well protected than terrestrial ecosystems, leading to increasing efforts to expand marine protected areas. Yet, the enforcement of marine protected areas is difficult, as a large part of the world's oceans lies outside national jurisdictions.

Protected areas may increase poverty when they lead to local rural communities being excluded from resources upon which they have traditionally relied. However, protected areas can contribute to improved livelihoods when they are managed to benefit local people, hence the importance of participatory consultation and planning.

The impacts of climate change on protected areas will increase the risk of extinction of certain species and change the nature of ecosystems. Effective precautionary strategies that will help biodiversity adapt to changing conditions include corridors and other measures aimed at giving protected areas greater flexibility. More...

6.2 Can economic incentives benefit biodiversity and local communities?

Economic incentives that encourage the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity show considerable promise. However, trade-offs between biodiversity, economic gains, and social needs have to be more realistically acknowledged.

  • Tradable development rights, for instance, are marketable rights awarded to landowners in areas reserved for conservation. These rights can then be sold to the owners of land in development areas who need to hold a certain number of these marketable rights before being granted permission to develop. Alternatively they can be sold to organizations with conservation interests. Though these rights offer the potential to achieve a conservation objective at a low cost, they have been criticized for being complex and unable to protect specific sensitive habitats.
  • Transferring rights to own and manage ecosystem services to private individuals gives them a stake in conserving those services. For example, in South Africa, this transfer encouraged conversion of land from cattle and sheep farming to profitable game farming, enabling conservation of indigenous wildlife.
  • Direct payments to local landowners for instance to maintain forests on their land can contribute to biodiversity conservation, even if this instrument requires continuous financial commitments and sometimes leads to conflicts.
  • Indirect incentives are often less effective than direct payments. For example, integrated conservation-development projects designed to allow local populations to benefit from the international willingness to pay for biodiversity conservation have only had limited success.
  • Removing or redirecting subsidies that cause more harm than good can help mitigate biodiversity loss. For instance, agricultural subsidies in industrial countries reduce world prices for many commodities, encouraging developing countries to adopt unsustainable agricultural practices.


6.3 How can invasive species be addressed?

Tackling invasive species will become an increasingly important biodiversity conservation action. Prevention and early intervention have been shown to be most successful and cost-effective.

The control or eradication of an invasive species once it has become established, is often extremely difficult and costly. Chemical control, sometimes combined with mechanical removal like cutting or pruning, has not proven particularly successful in eradication. Biological control of invasive species through the introduction of other species has also been attempted, but can lead to unexpected results such as the extinction of other local species. The social and economic aspects of the control of invasive species have received less attention. More...

6.4 How do protected areas benefit biodiversity and humans?

6.4.1 To be effectively conserved and sustainably used, biodiversity must become a part of the management of production sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.

Farmer in a field of maize in Bolivia
Farmer in a field of maize in Bolivia
Source: FAO

Agriculture is directly dependent on biodiversity. Yet, in recent decades, it has focused on maximizing yields using few relatively productive species and ignoring the potential importance of biodiversity. Some agricultural practices can contribute effectively to biodiversity conservation. Sustainable intensification, for instance, limits the land area needed for agricultural production, leaving a larger area available for biodiversity conservation. Other practices such as integrated pest management, some forms of organic farming, and protection of field margins habitats can promote synergies between agriculture and both domestic and wild biodiversity. Further research is needed on these interactions.

Sustainable forestry which addresses the livelihood needs of local inhabitants can be the most effective approach to control tropical deforestation at a local level. Forest management should center policies on existing land and water ownership at the community level and make use of relevant legal tools such as redesigning ownership to small-scale private control of forests, public-private partnerships, direct management of forests by indigenous people, and company-community partnerships. If they are to be effective, such measures need to be accompanied by enforcement while addressing education, training, health, and safety. More...

6.4.2 The private sector can make significant contributions to biodiversity conservation. Under the influence of shareholders, customers and public bodies, many companies are now showing greater corporate social and environmental responsibility, preparing their own biodiversity action plans. Further developments are likely to focus not only on the impact of companies on biodiversity, but also on ecosystem services and how companies rely on them, as well as on greater collaboration between companies and NGOs. More...

6.5 What governance approaches can promote biodiversity conservation?

To promote biodiversity conservation, strong institutions are needed at all levels. The principle that biodiversity should be managed at the lowest appropriate level has led to decentralization in many parts of the world. However, all levels of government need to be involved, with laws and policies developed by central governments in order to support the authority at the lower levels of government enabling them to provide incentives for sustainable resource management. Neither complete centralization nor complete decentralization of authority always results in better management.

In some countries local norms and traditions regarding property rights and ecosystems are much stronger than the law on paper. In that case, local knowledge, integrated with other scientific knowledge, becomes critical in managing local ecosystems.

It is well documented that many of the structural adjustment programs of the mid- to late 1980s aiming for economic stability, sectoral growth and poverty reduction caused deterioration in ecosystem services and a deepening of poverty in many developing countries. More efforts are needed in integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable use activities within such large decision-making frameworks.

International cooperation requires increased commitments to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable use of biological resources. Indeed, to be most effective, multilateral environmental agreements should include incentives, plus sanctions in case of violations or noncompliance. Moreover synergies should be sought between different agreements. Paradoxically, international agreements that deal with economic and political issues and not directly with environmental issues often have the greatest impact on biodiversity. Such agreements need to be closely linked with other agreements in order to take into account trade-offs and impacts on biodiversity.

Although biodiversity loss is a recognized global problem, most direct actions to halt or reduce loss need to be taken locally or nationally. More...

6.6 What are the key factors of success of conservation actions?

Numerous actions can improve the benefits humans obtain from ecosystems, without undermining biodiversity.

A series of key factors of successful actions against biodiversity loss have been identified, such as legal frameworks, financial resources, public participation, and good links with scientific bodies.

Key Factors of Successful Responses to Biodiversity Loss

Education and communication programs help making scientific findings and data available to all of society. As a result, more informed people tend to value biodiversity conservation more, which facilitates the implementation of conservation actions.

Ecosystem restoration activities are now common in many countries to restore wetlands, forests, grasslands, estuaries, coral reefs, and mangroves. These activities will become increasingly important as more ecosystems become degraded while demands for their services continue to grow. Restoration is generally far more expensive than protecting the original ecosystem and full recovery is often not possible.

Projects that integrate conservation and development were often assumed to lead to "win-win" situations, but in practice they more often lead to conflicts. Indeed, trade-offs between conservation and development need to be acknowledged and decision-makers must explicitly consider the consequences of all options, determine the levels of acceptable biodiversity loss and promote stakeholder participation.

The Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) and others have developed "ecosystem approaches" that provide a way of integrating different actions that affect ecosystems. These actions may take place over different time scales and over different geographic scales within a region. Integrating them into a coherent regional framework can highlight possible synergies and necessary trade-offs between actions.

In a particular location, when choosing between conservation and other activities, one should consider the positive gains provided by ecosystem services, and also take into account the full economic, social, and environmental cost of the proposed activities. More...

6.7 How could important drivers of biodiversity loss be addressed?

For biodiversity and ecosystem services to be protected more effectively, direct and indirect drivers of change must be addressed.

Possible actions include:

  • Removing or redirecting harmful subsidies, such as agricultural and fisheries subsidies in developed countries that promote excessive use of specific ecosystem services and that reduce the competitiveness of developing countries.
  • Promoting sustainable intensification of agriculture. Pressure on biodiversity could be lessened through technologies that increase the food yield per square km, without harmful trade-offs. In turn, biodiversity can contribute to agricultural productivity by contributing to pest control, pollination, soil fertility, and so on.
  • Slowing and adapting to climate change. Actions to facilitate the adaptation of ecosystems to climate change, such as the development of ecological corridors or networks, will be necessary to mitigate negative impacts on biodiversity.
  • Limiting the increase of the amount of nutrients present in soil and water linked to the use of fertilizers.
  • Taking into account the full economic value of ecosystem services and the cost of their degradation in decision-making could help slow or reverse ecosystem degradation.
  • Increasing the transparency of decision-making processes affecting ecosystems and the accountability of public and private decision-makers. Stakeholder participation helps reach decisions that are more effective and perceived as just. It can contribute to a better understanding of impacts by the public, increased accountability of decision-makers, and reduced corruption.
  • Integrating biodiversity conservation strategies and actions within broader development planning frameworks, such as national development strategies or poverty reduction strategies.
  • Increasing coordination between different international agreements that affect biodiversity directly or indirectly.
  • Enhancing our capacity to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and to take action.
  • Addressing unsustainable consumption patterns that affect biodiversity.


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