Human development and biodiversity conservation can go hand in hand, study finds

A development scenario involving reduced meat consumption and crop waste, as well as less energy-intensive lifestyles can help us reach global development goals while also protecting biodiversity, according to a new study.

Deforestation in Western Ghana in the region of the Upper Guinean Rainforest

The paper, Projecting global biodiversity indicators under future development scenarios, co-authored by 10 institutions including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sapienza University of Rome and BirdLife International, is published in the journal Conservation Letters.

The study assesses the impact of future human development scenarios on the conservation of the world’s terrestrial carnivores and ungulates (hoofed mammals). It reveals that a business-as-usual development scenario would bring increased deforestation and carbon emissions, putting one in four species of carnivore and ungulate at a higher risk of extinction by 2050.

“Today’s growing global demand for food, water and energy is satisfied by increasing agricultural productivity and the use of fossil fuels and other resources,” says co-author Thomas Brooks, Head of IUCN’s Science and Knowledge Unit. “This comes at a high environmental cost.”

“In the paper we demonstrate for the first time that human development goals and biodiversity conservation do not need to compete,” says lead author Piero Visconti of the IUCN Red List Global Mammal Assessment Program at Sapienza University of Rome, and Microsoft Research. “We found that an alternative scenario exists that can eradicate hunger and poverty and improve overall human well-being while enhancing the status of biodiversity globally.”

In this ‘Consumption Change’ scenario, access by the poor to food, energy and water is increased to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals while per capita consumption – and meat consumption in particular – in the developed world is reduced, together with crop waste. These actions should result in reduced wildlife habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions, thereby decreasing species extinction risk, according to the paper.

Alongside changes in consumption and more efficient production practices, other measures would be needed. These include reduced logging, progressive environmental legislation such as carbon taxation, strategic placement of protected areas and the use of sustainable agricultural practices to increase crop yields.

The study shows how biodiversity indicators can be used together with social, economic and environmental scenarios to help develop sustainable development policy.

“This kind of study is key for the work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, whose aim is to inform global policy making to address the current biodiversity crisis,” says co-author Rob Alkemade of PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Head of the Technical Support Unit for the IPBES assessment on scenarios and modelling.

The third session of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Plenary is taking place from 12 to 17 January 2015, in Bonn, Germany.

For more information please contact:
Lynne Labanne, IUCN Global Species Programme, m +41 79 527 72 21, e
Olivia Nater, IUCN Global Species Programme Communications, tel. +41 22 999 0123, e

Work area: 
Climate Change
Protected Areas
Red List
South America
North America
East and Southern Africa
West and Central Africa
West Asia
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