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Eco-Economic Development

Faced with growing threats to biodiversity and the natural systems that are crucial to all economies, conservation efforts that merely stop nature loss are no longer enough. Rather, we need to reverse the decline, which means changing how we produce and consume.

WASHINGTON, DC – The Earth’s biodiversity and the services provided by healthy ecosystems are under massive pressure from climate change and the challenge of supporting eight billion people in a sustainable way. Key ecosystem services – such as timber from forests, pollinators, and ocean fishing – must be conserved and cherished, yet they are being rapidly eroded. The 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal this month offers a chance to build on humanity’s shared vision of living in harmony with nature.

Biodiversity is an important goal for World Bank Group programs. But to reverse its loss, economic decisions must take nature into account. That is why we are working to help countries integrate nature into their economic growth models, development plans, and climate agendas. Doing so means establishing policies that consider nature’s real economic value, building institutions that support nature, developing public-private partnerships to support that goal, and mobilizing finance from all sources to transform economies and policies – going well beyond isolated interventions.

Fishing is a good example of why nature matters for growth and development. Globally, fish stocks are declining, owing to the triple threat of climate change, overfishing, and pollution. If business as usual continues, the world could lose up to 25% of fish catches by the end of the century. That should concern everyone, for several reasons.

First, we are already facing one of the largest food-security crises in modern history. Since fish are an important dietary component for 3.3 billion people, a reduced supply will exacerbate food crises now and in the future. Fish are rich in nutrients that are particularly important for child development, and they are an especially valued source of protein for the poor, because they are easier to obtain and cheaper to preserve than other sources. Hence, fish contribute 50% or more of the total animal-protein intake in Ghana, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone. Moreover, a fish shortage will affect the entire food chain, because fish products are important components of other foods, including livestock feeds.

Second, as fish become scarcer or migrate to colder and deeper waters because of climate change, many fishers will be forced to travel farther to catch them, to change the way they fish, or to find new jobs. Many will not be able to adapt. Among the 38 million people globally who are employed directly in fishing, the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit. This includes small-scale fishing communities, which are often located in remote areas that are already disproportionally affected by climate change. Women, who make up 50% of employees in the broader aquatic-food value chain, will also be significantly affected. For those with little formal education, alternative livelihoods will be hard to find.

Third, the impact of these threats will grow over time. Fish stocks do not respect international boundaries. Without the right regulations and incentives, fleets will continue to maximize their catches in the short term, with major economies overfishing far beyond their territorial waters. If all countries do this, a bad problem will become much worse. Fifty years ago, about 10% of global fish stocks were being fished at biologically unsustainable levels, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Today, that figure has risen to 35%. While many countries will suffer, the poorest communities stand to lose the most.

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Faced with these challenges, conservation efforts that merely stop nature loss are no longer enough. Rather, we need to reverse the decline, which means changing how we produce and consume.

One approach is to invest in nature-based solutions that protect nature while also supporting economic development, creating livelihoods, and helping countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Consider mangroves, which are rich in biodiversity, act as nursery areas for fish, protect more than six million people from annual flooding, and absorb carbon emissions. They are estimated to have an economic wealth valued at $550 billion. Another example is seaweed farming, which has the potential to create jobs, alleviate food insecurity, and absorb carbon.

The World Bank Group is working across many fronts to help countries recognize both the value of nature and the risks that would follow from losing it. Often working through ministries of finance, we provide funding, knowledge, policy advice, and technical capacity to mobilize partners behind nature-based solutions. With our support, countries are identifying promising new interventions that can be replicated and scaled up.

For example, by involving different stakeholders in marine planning, Vietnam is reducing conflicts over resource use across sectors. In China, we’re working with the Chongqing and Ningbo municipalities to reduce the amount of marine plastic that reaches the ocean from river effluent, building on earlier projects that helped establish China’s water-treatment capacity. By applying technologies like satellites and drones, we are helping Tanzania and other countries obtain real-time data on coastal and marine degradation, so that they can act to prevent it. And through innovative financial instruments such as blue carbon credits, Ghana aims to restore 3,000 hectares of mangroves and bring in more private funding.

We are working to expand efforts like these. Near-term goals include more financing for projects in poor countries, a bigger role for the private sector, and coordinated action from local communities to national governments. But if we are going to stop biodiversity loss, much more needs to be done, both by us and the global community.

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