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Supporting global biodiversity conservation with broader species coverage

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The world is losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. The Living Planet Index reports a 68% decline in the world’s biological diversity since 1970—this despite global efforts and a growing awareness of the interdependency of human life and the natural world (photo 1). Mounting evidence suggests that biodiversity conservation is also a critical development issue, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable economies.

Photo 1. Many biodiverse species are threatened with extinction.

image of endangered species
Sources: © Pritthijit (Raja) Kundu; © C.L. Vinod (tiger). Used with permission; further permission required for reuse.

Global biodiversity conservation efforts must be increased. Adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the December meeting of COP-15 (Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD]) can catalyze broad-based action to transform society’s relationship with nature. The framework’s holistic approach identifies drivers of biodiversity loss across all economic sectors, brings nature’s value into decision-making at all levels, and aligns financial flows with biodiversity goals.

Limited public-domain information on critical ecosystems, biodiversity, and habitat have impeded progress. Many datasets are difficult to access and use, especially in the developing world, and traditional metrics are often limited to information on terrestrial vertebrates supplied by IUCN and BirdLife International. The mismatch between rapidly developing threats and long update cycles for even basic information curated by financially challenged institutions also hampers progress.

The World Bank has supported various aspects of biodiversity conservation as part of its protected area investments, other conservation, and Environmental Social Framework (ESS6). Biodiversity is also being explored as part of nature-based systems with insights from climate, jobs, and financing perspectives. These efforts are also constrained by limited public-access data and analytics.

Broadening public-information access

The World Bank is supporting the new framework through the Global Biodiversity Data and Analytics Services (GBDAS), a 2.5-year initiative supported by a Global Environment Facility Medium-Sized Project. The GBDAS is collating relevant data to expand species coverage considered for biodiversity indicators to include aquatic biodiversity, plants, and invertebrates, in addition to terrestrial vertebrates. The database currently incorporates habitat maps for over 90,000 species along with extinction risks for over 75,000 species. Critical conservation issues are provided for over 38,000 endemic species and more than 2,000 small-habitat species (less than 25 km2).

Operational biodiversity data at your fingertips

This new initiative is developing data and e-packaged products (e-books/storymaps, case studies, and learning/outreach events) that help users visualize biodiversity and other development data drawn from the World Bank’s Development Data Hub, ITS Geospatial Platform, and Spatial Agent App. These dashboards support the new framework with a wide range of analytical/visualization tools for integrating biodiversity data with other environmental and development-related information.

Expanded, publicly-available biodiversity data will support more holistic approaches by the World Bank and other development partners, as well as inform protected-area designation and stakeholder-designed biodiversity and threat indicators. These could include identifying key biodiversity locations outside of protected areas (e.g., 30 by 30 -- see Dinerstein et al. 2019); other effective area-based conservation measures (CBD Decision 14/8); ecological risk reduction for new infrastructure projects through environmental due diligence; and integration of biodiversity information with the development dialogue.

New insights and opportunities for conservation stewards

First-stage development of the GBDAS has provided the following insights:

  • Extending species coverage beyond current “keystone” groups greatly expands the set of countries that are key conservation stewards. New species groups have low locational correlations with “keystone” groups, so expanded coverage changes the locational basis for priority-setting and hotspot identification (map 1).

Map 1. Global distribution of species

?       Map 1. Global distribution of species

Sources: Birdlife International, Borgelt et al. 2022; IUCN; Kass et al. 2022.

  • Expanded coverage of endemic species and a flexible definition of endemism deepen our understanding of countries’ conservation stewardship and provide new information for priority-setting (figure 1).

Figure 1. IUCN threat categorization using broader species coverage

Figure 1. IUCN threat categorization using broader species coverage

  • Introduction of small-range species adds new threat information for priority-setting and another dimension of conservation stewardship. Small-range species are particularly vulnerable because large-scale industrial and agricultural projects may quickly eliminate their habitats (map 2).

Map 2. Global distribution of small-range endemic species.

Map 2. Global distribution of small-range endemic species

Invitation to conservation stewardship

This new World Bank initiative responds to the SDG Decade of Action, which calls for broadening global access to policy-critical data and demonstrating their use. It also meets the need to broaden coverage of endangered species, along with an expanded domain for conservation stewardship. We look forward to collaborating with partners committed to the shared vision of free/open data and analytics. Working together with appropriate information is urgently needed to facilitate better decision-making that protects global biodiversity amidst the development challenges and opportunities (see Unlocking Nature-Smart Development: A World Bank Group Approach Paper on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services). The growing set of free/public-domain data, cloud analytics, visualization, and e-packaging built on technological advances can greatly help. 

What publicly available data of other species groups across the world could be added? Join the conversation and leave a suggestion in the comments.

The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Global Environment Facility.


Brian Blankespoor

Environmental Specialist

Susmita Dasgupta

Lead Environmental Economist, Development Research Goup, World Bank

Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep

Global Lead (Disruptive Technology), Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice

David Wheeler

Senior Fellow Emeritus

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