Let's give back to nature what nature gives to us

Farmer inspects a cocoa tree in Honduras. Photo: World Bank Farmer inspects a cocoa tree in Honduras. Photo: World Bank

From Patagonia to the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is abundant in life and ecosystems.  

With only 16% of the earth's land surface, the LAC region holds 50% of the world's known biodiversity, 25% of all forests, and 30% of all freshwater. The Amazon biome alone hosts half of the world's tropical forests and is home to at least 10% of known biodiversity.  

On average, LAC is the most water-rich region, with four times the world's average water availability per capita. It is also a culturally and socioeconomically diverse region, home to 42 million indigenous people, and 560 indigenous languages spoken.  

Today, the loss of biodiversity is increasing at alarming rates. The way we are using natural resources for food and energy is pushing biodiversity to critical conditions.  

It is critical to act now to restore our biodiversity 

Nature provides sustainable livelihoods for local people as well as vital ecosystem services for the region and the globe, such as the supply of oxygen, clean air and water, food, pollination of plants, and protection from extreme weather events.  

Poor communities often rely directly on natural resources for their livelihoods. In Colombia, for instance, agriculture and fisheries generate 14% of employment. In the Caribbean, the fisheries sector employs directly and indirectly over 300,000 people and is an important contributor to national incomes.  

Taken together, land-use change, climate change, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive species, driven mostly by human activities, threaten the region’s biodiversity. The tropics, which are home to the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet, have seen the greatest losses of intact ecosystems, with 100 million hectares of tropical forest lost from 1980 to 2000, with South America accounting for about 42 million hectares. 

Biodiversity loss has a significant economic and social effect in the world but, especially, in lower and middle-income countries.  If business continues as usual, between 2021 and 2030 the world could lose about 46 million hectares of natural land through conversion from its natural state for productive uses, driven mainly by an increase in managed forest, pastureland, and cropland. Latin America is projected to lose 12 million hectares of natural land over the same period of time. This will accelerate the loss of biodiversity and the generation of ecosystem services that support planetary livelihoods.    

Reaching ecological tipping points could jeopardize developing countries’ prospects for growing out of poverty. In a scenario where even just a few vital ecosystem services collapse, such as pollination, fisheries, and provision of timber in native forests, LAC could see a 3.3% annual loss of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030, compared with a scenario in which no tipping point is reached, according to a World Bank report.  

Nature-based solutions to address biodiversity loss 

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are an approach that uses natural systems to provide critical services and address development challenges. NBS include different types of interventions such as wetlands for flood mitigation or mangroves to reduce the impact of waves, storm surge and coastal erosion while restoring biodiversity and increasing carbon sequestration.  

The World Bank promotes NBS as they could deliver 37 percent of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed through 2030, at the same time protecting and restoring ecosystems. 

Effective and sustainable transformative action requires putting Indigenous People and Local Communities (IPLC) at the heart of Nature-Based Solutions.  With their knowledge and traditional practices, IPLCs are key players in solving biodiversity loss.  

Indigenous-managed territories are characterized by better ecosystem health and higher levels of biodiversity. Part of solving the biodiversity challenge will come through policy measures, governance and investments to enhance and scale up IPLC managed territories. 

Our actions to support the region in preventing further biodiversity loss 

The World Bank has a clear commitment to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss as it helps the region combat poverty and boosts shared prosperity. Among other projects, the Bank leads the Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Program (ASL), one of the largest regional programs implemented in the Amazon, with US$ 203.7 million in grant financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  

The ASL includes national projects in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname and a regional project that promotes coordination and knowledge management. It aims to improve integrated landscape management and ecosystem conservation of the Amazon by: 

  • Improving the management of 87 million hectares of high biodiversity protected areas (slightly less than the size of Venezuela). 

  • Restoring over 48 thousand hectares of degraded lands.  

  • Promoting biodiversity-friendly practices in almost 4 million hectares (about the size of the State of Rio de Janeiro).  

The World Bank is also helping rural communities in Argentina to benefit from and help sustain around 200,000 hectares of native forest.  As a result, more than 1,000 farmers living in and around natural protected areas, of which 45% are women and 42% are indigenous people, are improving their livelihoods by producing native honey, raising more sustainable livestock, and providing nature-based tourism services.  

This effort has fostered enhanced conservation and climate resilience of more than 870,000 hectares of vulnerable ecosystems such as the Patagonian steppe and coast and the Gran Chaco Forest.  

These examples show how we can integrate nature and development to restore and protect our homes, our countries, and the world. If we do our part now, nature will reward us with cleaner air, more freshwater and a better world for future generations. It's time to give back to nature!  


Anna Wellenstein

Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific, Sustainable Development Practice Group, World Bank

Genevieve Connors

LAC Environment Practice Manager

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