Solutions to Biodiversity Loss

updated May 2017

Awareness of the limitations of protected areas and national parks has generated more determined efforts to explore models of sustainable use of biodiversity, one of the three core objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

In acknowledging the importance of engaging rather than excluding human agency, the vision of sustainable use of biodiversity falls firmly within the global challenge of sustainable development. Strategic solutions to food security, poverty reduction and health can benefit from, and contribute to, flourishing natural ecosystems supported by stable biodiversity.

The agriculture sector illustrates the interacting dilemmas for governments in richer and poorer countries in the endeavour to achieve national food security without neglecting biodiversity.

Modern industrial farming yields plentiful and cheap food but is associated with mono-culture environments where biodiversity has been cast aside and where high carbon inputs from fertilizer and machinery are required. The FAO estimates that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity once found in agricultural crops has been lost over the last century. Just three staple crops – wheat, maize and rice – now provide 48% of plant-based calories in the human diet.

By contrast, food security prospects in the world’s poorest countries are sensitive to the productivity of 475 million smallholdings of less than two hectares.

One solution is to encourage this profile to evolve towards the large-scale high-technology model of more developed countries, despite the probable loss of biodiversity. An alternative approach seeks to conserve biodiversity as an input for higher yields that can be achieved through intense husbandry on small farms. Described as “agro-ecology” or “eco-farming”, this low input model requires skills in soil regeneration, nitrogen fixation, natural pest control and agro-forestry, each of which depends on greater variety of crops and peripheral plants.

Reconciliation of these polarised approaches to agriculture is critical to both food security and biodiversity. Choices made by individual consumers in richer countries also have a vital role to play. For example, existing pressure to disclose more information about global supply chains through product labelling of carbon and water footprints might be extended to biodiversity.

Some of the world’s major corporations are beginning to acknowledge not just the reputational risk of environmentally damaging products but also the more fundamental business risk of ecosystem failure. Commodities such as coffee and cocoa are integral to the global economy, yet dependent on delicate ecosystems.

International policymakers and negotiators on environmental issues face their own challenges in integrating biodiversity across their agendas. Detailed implementation of multilateral agreements increasingly overlaps. This difficulty is most apparent in the three separate 1992 UN Conventions addressing the interconnected problems of biodiversity, climate change and desertification.

A vision of a world economy in which ecosystems and biodiversity are recognised as the highest and non-negotiable tier of economic capital, framing policymaking and business strategies, therefore remains elusive. However, an innovative path to achieve supremacy of ecosystems has been pioneered in New Zealand and India in 2017. Successful petitions have been brought to grant legal rights to rivers of especial cultural significance, as though the ecosystem has human agency. The implications are uncertain but any development affecting these rivers is likely to encounter legal hurdles.


The Future of Biodiversity – solutions lie in finding sustainable use of ecosystems rather than passive protected areas, from the Crisis of Life project.

Eradicating invasive species for biodiversity restoration – a creative solution to the unwelcome presence of lionfish in the Caribbean. Eat it.
from UNEP

more Biodiversity briefings
The Anthropocene
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity Loss and Planetary Boundaries
Causes of Biodiversity Loss
Climate Change and Biodiversity
Conservation of Biodiversity
Sustainable Development Goals for Biodiversity
Biodiversity Finance and Economics
Biodiversity Access and Benefit-Sharing
Source Material and Useful Links

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