How do biodiversity and poverty relate? An explorative study

date: 2009-12-23

Cattle breeding in Africa

Decision makers are faced with certain challenges when they explore ways of simultaneously achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the CBD 2010 targets for biodiversity conservation. Decreasing poverty usually coincides with decreasing biodiversity, creating a 'win-lose' situation. Overexploitation can lead to a collapse of the system and an increase in poverty with even more loss of biodiversity, and become a 'lose-lose' situation. Reducing poverty while conserving biodiversity - a 'win-win' - can be achieved on a local scale. However, such a positive impact is hard to realise when all trade-off effects elsewhere and in the future are considered.

These are the main conclusions of the explorative study: 'How do biodiversity and poverty relate? An explorative study', by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).

Theoretical framework tested against case-studies

The aim of this study was to build a theory on the relationship between biodiversity and poverty that explains developments under different conditions. We reviewed the literature on these relationships and on the causes of change in biodiversity and poverty, drafted a conceptual framework for this relationship, and tested this framework against the results of eleven case studies at subnational scale in developing countries. These cases concern production systems based on the use of natural resources. We cooperated with research partners in these countries, who carried out the case studies and contributed to the overall analysis.

Relationship between poverty and biodiversity depends on many determinants

In both the literature and the case studies, increasing and declining poverty levels coincided with an increase or decline in biodiversity in all possible combinations. We also found shifts in the direction of this relationship, over time, within the same resource use system. The relationship between biodiversity and poverty largely knows 16 determinants, characterising socio-economic context, ecosystems and production processes. Market integration, access to capital, management skills and productivity divide all cases into two types of resource-use system: market-oriented and capital-driven, or subsistence-oriented and poverty-driven. How these determinants influence biodiversity and poverty also depends on cross-cutting factors, such as population density and growth, ecosystem sensitivity to degradation, governance, and policies on poverty alleviation and biodiversity protection. Policy interventions may shift negative trends towards a more positive direction, making them policy driven.

Further research to consolidate the findings of this study should focus, among other things, on two areas: other mechanisms of change, for example, war and conflict driven or environmentally driven as a consequence of climate change impact, and the impact of policy interventions.

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