World's poor most affected by biodiversity and ecosystem loss

Europe's biodiversity for life programme contributes to socioeconomic development and the eradication of poverty, writes Roberto Ridolfi.

By Roberto Ridolfi

05 Jun 2015

More than 70 per cent of the world's poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biodiversity and ecosystems for their subsistence. 

Ecosystem services provide livelihoods, enhance food and nutrition security, enable access to water and to health and contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

For example, mangrove ecosystems, when sustainably managed, allow the maintenance of fish stocks at a high level, while at the same time protecting the coast from erosion, providing timber and fuel wood, and storing carbon in the roots and the soil.


An increasing population and global trade have put unsustainable pressure on renewable natural resources, such as bush meat, fuel wood or arable land, which is increasing long-term poverty and leads to biodiversity loss. 

On the other hand, illegal wildlife trade of endangered species has a major impact on biodiversity, but also represents a real threat to national security and economic development for many African countries. 

Unprecedented poaching levels and sophisticated smuggling capabilities are indicative of organised criminal activity. 

Over €21bn of worldwide environmental crime is attributed to illegal wildlife trade, of which ivory is an important component. 

It is believed that this money is partly financing illegal groups, such as the Lord's Resistance Army, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, playing a part in destabilising the security of large regions.

Since 1985, EU funding for biodiversity protection in sub-Saharan Africa went to direct support of protected areas management, with a special focus on Central and West Africa - for example, Virunga in Democratic Republic of Congo and Odzala in Republic of Congo. 

This approach was efficient in safeguarding large key protected areas and served as a foundation for efficient national and regional networks. 

Most recently, however, the wildlife crisis has changed in nature and magnitude and requires an adapted response to this new context.

At the political level, the commission is preparing an EU action plan against wildlife trafficking aiming to tackle the wildlife problem in a more comprehensive way by addressing both the supply and the demand side. 

More specifically, within its development cooperation actions, the commission has defined and is implementing the flagship initiative 'EU biodiversity for life' (B4LIFE) which aims to bring together all EU cooperation activities in the area of biodiversity and ecosystems under the same umbrella framework.

With actions financed from both the EU's thematic and geographical external cooperation instruments, the overall aim of B4Life is to contribute to halting biodiversity loss and averting ecosystem collapse, by fully integrating biodiversity and ecosystem conservation with socioeconomic development and poverty eradication. 

In line with the agenda for change, B4Life will concentrate its operations in three priority areas: good governance for a sustainable manage- ment of natural capital; ecosystem conservation for food security and sustainable rural development; and ecosystem-based solutions towards a green economy.
B4Life also offers a special 'window' of action to address the wildlife crisis caused by the dramatic increase in poaching and illegal trafficking seen in recent years. 

To better define its actions in this arena and eventually feed the EU action plan on wildlife trafficking with well-informed interventions, the commission has committed the expert study - 'Larger than elephants: inputs for an EU strategy for African wildlife conservation'. 

Endorsed by the entire conservation community the report contains detailed proposals along three main pillars. 

First, in-situ management of large key landscapes for conservation including conservation and local development programmes. 

Second, is the fight against illegal trafficking (from supply to demand sides) with a strong emphasis on law enforcement. The final pillar is the reinforcement of national and regional capacities for management and monitoring. 

The cooperation with the Democratic Republic of Congo offers a good example of the integration between conservation and development. 

In five sites of exceptional importance - Virunga, Garamba, Salonga, Yangambi and Upemba - that are managed along traditional practices, development projects will improve the livelihoods of local population by increasing access to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture. 

This then favours the security and long-term economic development of these regions.

The EU is one of the largest official development assistance contributors to biodiversity financing, and has seen its investments increase significantly from €132m (2006) to €319m (2013). 

For the next seven years, EU will maintain its efforts to double its biodiversity financing in line with its international commitments from the Hyderabad conference in 2012.

Even though the lion's share of the European Union's investments in biodiversity goes to direct support for conservation actions - in particular the management of protected areas - indirect support tends to increase as well, through the integration of biodiversity in other sectors of cooperation, such as climate change, forestry, agriculture and coastal resources management.