Nature 4 Development: improving evidence and dialogue on biodiversity and development

Biodiversity is being lost at alarming rates. But the so-called biodiversity crisis is also a development crisis. IIED and partners are assessing the evidence that investing in nature delivers development outcomes for poor people, and enhancing dialogue between conservation and development communities.

April 2019 - March 2022
Dilys Roe

Principal researcher and team leader (biodiversity), Natural Resources

Biodiversity and development
A programme of work showing how IIED is working to ensure biodiversity conservation, climate change and economic development are tackled together by the institutions that drive policy, rules, plans, investment and action
Two women holding jars of quinoa

Conserving and marketing traditional quinoa varieties is helping rural poor communities in the Andes to develop new livelihoods (Photo: Alfredo Camacho, Bioversity International via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The landmark Global Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published in 2019 made it clear that nature underpins sustainable development, and that the current rate of loss of biodiversity is a major challenge and as significant as climate change.

But until recently, biodiversity loss has been seen as an environmental problem, not high on national and international political agendas, nor on the agendas of many development and humanitarian organisations.

Our rapid review of the evidence indicates several possible reasons for this biodiversity-development disconnect: 

  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding: the biodiversity crisis is often presented by the popular media in terms of iconic species such as elephants and rhinos potentially going extinct. The development community, understandably, fails to see the connection between the fate of these species and the fortunes of poor people – especially as conservation of such species generally fails to generate adequate benefits for poor people and often disenfranchises them.
  • International environmental justice vs national sovereignty: managing biodiversity, even though it is in global crisis, is generally perceived as a local responsibility. By contrast, climate change is recognised as a situation where emissions generated in the North have disproportionate impacts in the global South.

    But biodiversity loss is also an issue of environmental injustice. Northern consumption is driving unsustainable use of natural resources through international corporate supply chains, resulting in unjust losses of valuable local assets.
  • Time lags: it can take a long time for biodiversity loss to have obvious impacts – whether on people or on ecological systems. While everyone can see the impacts of climate change – especially as increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events – biodiversity loss is taking a toll all around us, almost invisibly.
  • Complexity masked by simple metrics: biodiversity is a complex, multi-faced concept that requires systems-level thinking. Unlike climate change, where progress can be measured in terms of emissions, tonnes of carbon and degrees of warming, there is no single clear indicator for biodiversity loss (or for conservation success). The indicators that have gained prominence, which focus on endangered species, fail to resonate with the development community.  

What is IIED doing?

The Convention on Biological Diversity is due to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework at its next COP, as a 'stepping stone towards the 2050 Vision of "Living in harmony with nature"'. As negotiations for a new global framework take place, our Nature 4 Development initiative will assess the evidence to determine whether investing in nature really does generate desirable development outcomes, without undermining biodiversity. 

Working with the Nature-based Solutions Initiative at the University of Oxford, we are reviewing studies, evaluations and case studies from academic and ‘grey’ literature to better understand what kinds of interventions deliver what kinds of outcomes, and under what conditions. We will be looking for evidence on impacts on health, hunger, jobs, income, rights and resilience. 

We are also convening meetings and events with environment and development organisations to explore areas of common interest and concern and to build alliances to advocate for these common interests in global policy processes, including the UN conventions on biodiversity and on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Get involved

If you have – or are aware of – key reports, articles, assessments and case studies that document how investing in nature is delivering development outcomes, please send them to us to include in our evidence review. You can see our current list in a document we have created. Please let us know what is missing via [email protected].

If you represent a development organisation and are interested to learn more about biodiversity and how it can contribute to development, get in touch. We can send you information or organise a presentation for your staff. 

We have plans for a series of online and physical events in the run-up to the COP26 climate change summit and CBD COP15. Watch this space for more details.

Additional resources


University of Oxford (Nature-based Solutions Initiative)