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Tackling biodiversity loss to achieve green, resilient, and inclusive development

Vue aérienne de la forêt de mangrove en Gambie. Photo : Curioso. Photography/ Vue aérienne de la forêt de mangrove en Gambie. Photo : Curioso. Photography/

Mari Pangestu represented the World Bank at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in September 2021, speaking at a high-level dialogue on Unlocking a Nature-Smart Recovery from the pandemic and also an event recognizing the progress made on climate and nature through the One Planet Summit. This blog was originally published as an open letter to the IUCN Congress on September 4.


The world today faces multiple crises of immense proportions: COVID-19, climate change, and biodiversity loss are foremost among them. As we focus on recovery efforts, the interconnections between people, the planet, and the economy cannot be ignored.

The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services is a development issue, often impacting the poorest countries the most. Nature does not need us, but we need nature, yet these services are often undervalued and unaccounted for in development planning.

Consider what is at stake: more than half of global GDP is generated in industries that are highly or moderately dependent on ecosystem services, such as pollination, water filtration, and raw materials.

  • Over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their protein intake and livelihoods – but 90% of global marine fish stocks are now fully exploited or overfished.  
  • More than 75% of food crops rely on animal pollination – but over 40% of known insect species have declined in past decades.

In fact, fourteen out of eighteen categories of ecosystem services assessed by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services have declined since 1970.

The risks associated with the global decline of nature have the potential to negatively impact economies, especially in low- and lower middle-income countries. Recent World Bank research estimates that even a partial collapse of ecosystem services would cost 2.3% of global GDP in 2030, while  Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia could lose 9.7% and 6.5% of their real GDP respectively, if key ecosystem services collapse.  The Dasgupta Review shows that the stock of natural capital has declined by 40% per capita over the period from 1992 to 2014.

Inaction is no longer an option. As countries look toward economic recovery from the pandemic, it is necessary to put human and planetary health on the same course. The recovery must be nature-smart, to set countries on a path for green, resilient and inclusive development. The value of nature should be accounted for in all development decisions, in all sectors.

The World Bank Group is actively supporting countries’ transition to a greener, more resilient, economy through investments in conservation, financial innovation, and through support for the integration of nature-smart practices in sectors such as transport, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and coastal zone management. From slope stabilization around roads in India to terraces and increased vegetation to prevent erosion, reduce runoff, and improve land productivity in Burundi, our nature-based solutions portfolio included 70 projects in 46 countries last year. We are also exploring ways of expanding public and private financing options to invest in nature, to support countries whose finances are squeezed as they tackle compounding crises. 

We cannot act on biodiversity without also considering the threats to nature and people’s livelihoods from climate change, as nature loss and climate change are two sides to the same coin. Under our new five-year Climate Change Action Plan, announced in June, the World Bank Group will align all our financing with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and we are backing that up with more financing. Over the next five years, 35% of all our financing, on average, will go towards climate action, including support to nature-based solutions terrestrial, coastal, and marine areas. That means more financing for countries to cut emissions by decarbonizing their energy and transport systems; to restore and protect their forests and other landscapes; to transform their food systems; to build communities’ resilience to climate impacts; and to find new, greener jobs and livelihoods for people.

In responding to the nature crisis, which is a systemic threat, a whole of economy approach is needed to transform economic activity, policies, and investment decisions that drive nature loss.  Any economic losses due to policy changes that prevent nature loss can be almost entirely offset by economic gains from improved provision of ecosystem services, according to World Bank analysis.

A recent World Bank Group approach paper on biodiversity and ecosystem services outlines six global response areas that can set economies on more sustainable pathways. We urge you to consider them during the important discussions at this year’s IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille. These include:

  • Engaging economic and financial decision makers in efforts to protect nature;
  • Integrating nature and nature-based solutions into investments in all sectors, especially those that put the most pressure on nature;
  • Enhancing and equitably sharing the benefits of conserving nature with local communities;
  • Mobilizing finance for nature from public and private sources;
  • Developing metrics and decision support tools to inform planning, policy, and financial decisions;
  • Leveraging partnerships to foster consensus and sustainably manage public goods.

Nature-smart policies are a win-win. Investing in nature can contribute to recovery efforts by creating jobs, targeting the poorest communities, and building long-term resilience. Healthy ecosystems support climate change mitigation and increase the resilience of the most vulnerable communities around the world. Our estimates suggest that ambitious targets, such as protecting 30% of land and oceans by 2030 (the ‘30x30’ goal), are within reach, but rely on global action across and within sectors.

It is our collective responsibility – from private companies, to the financial sector, to government policymakers, to civil society – to commit to decisive action to reverse nature loss through conservation, sustainable use, and equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity. We need nature to develop.


Mari Elka Pangestu

Former World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships

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