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Earth Day 2010

Environment Matters

Forty years after the first Earth Day, the World Bank is gearing up to push the issue of biodiversity back up the international policy agenda.

Joining the billion plus people in 190 countries taking environmental action today, the World Bank kicks off its support for the International Year of Biodiversity with a new edition of its flagship magazine, “Environment Matters”.

The magazine, with the theme “Banking on Biodiversity,” was released Wednesday, April 21 by President Zoellick at a special event at the Bank to draw attention to the plight of the wild tiger, a potent symbol of the threat to biodiversity worldwide.

“We are using the appeal of these charismatic big cats as a clarion call,” said President Zoellick, “… to draw attention to the need to protect biodiversity and to remind people of the wildlife and wilderness we stand to lose if we do not balance conservation and economic development.”

The Bank and its partner organizations (the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, the Global Environment Facility, and the International Tiger Coalition) in the Global Tiger Initiative met in Washington to inaugurate the “Vanishing Icons” photo exhibit at the World Bank.

Biodiversity, Long-term Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction

The sustainable use and conservation of natural resources is essential for poverty reduction and economic growth. But—as is forcefully pointed out in many articles in this year’s Environment Matters there is a tension between the short-term gains from unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and the long-term benefits from sustainable stewardship of this asset base. Destroying biodiversity undermines long-term economic growth and is particularly counterproductive in the poorest communities in developing countries who are most at risk from the loss of nature.

“I believe we can—and must—have strong economic growth, help those living in poverty to overcome it, and serve as stewards of our common environmental heritage,” said President Zoellick, “…and to achieve this, we need a paradigm change so that the value of sensitive ecosystems and wilderness is factored into the equation of development.”

Biodiversity is critical for maintaining ecosystem services. These range from providing foodstuffs and shelter to regulating climate and protecting vulnerable communities against natural disasters. Yet in many cases the biodiversity that sustains these services—one and a half acres of rain forest are lost every second due to deforestation—is threatened. As a result, 137 plant, animal, and insect species disappear every day; that equates to 50,000 species a year. Among other things, those losses will have significant implications for human health, since about 25 percent of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from rain forest ingredients—even though to date less than 1 percent of tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.

Little Known Fact: The WBG is a Major Player in Biodiversity Conservation

The Bank’s support to biodiversity ranges from producing local-language field guides to providing leadership in global partnerships (for example, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Global Tiger Initiative, Save Our Species program), and from studying environmental health to rehabilitating degraded forests and coral reefs. We have also succeeded in strengthening local capacity and building bridges between community-based organizations and local and national governments.

Over the past 20 years, the World Bank has been one of the main international funders of biodiversity initiatives, demonstrating a commitment to the environment by providing support to 624 projects in more than 122 countries, representing more than $6.5 billion in biodiversity investments. The biodiversity portfolio is supported by about $2 billion in loans and over $1.4 billion in Global Environment Facility resources; the balance is from other sources of co-financing, including substantial contributions from developing countries’ own resources.

Nonetheless, while the Bank, with numerous government and non-government partners, has engaged in a significant way to safeguard biodiversity in the world, there has been a substantial decrease in biodiversity investments at the Bank over the past three years. This decrease comes at a time when conserving biodiversity, securing the ecosystem services it provides, and rebalancing the pursuit of short-term aggregate gains at the expense of the most vulnerable have never been more important. And never has the Bank been more able to provide the leadership to marry resource stewardship to emerging threats in the water sector, because of climate change, and in light of the food and fuel crises.

Mainstreaming Environmental Sustainability in the Development Agenda

A core part of the Bank’s biodiversity work is centered on doing just that. For example, the Natural Habitats operational policy is intended to minimize, mitigate, and manage adverse impacts on natural habitats. Another opportunity lies in integrating ecosystem-based approaches to climate change into broader adaptation and mitigation strategies. By scaling up efforts to protect forests, wetlands, and grasslands and improve agricultural practices, biodiversity conservation plays a key role as part of national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and defend against climate shocks. The co-benefits of such efforts in terms of improved ecosystem service delivery and biodiversity conservation are only now beginning to be understood.

Of critical importance to achieving these objectives is effective policy and planning and strong governance to see that plans are effectively implemented. Strengthening our support to governments and stakeholders in setting an appropriate policy framework, planning environmentally sustainable development, and strengthening the ability to ensure such development is a major area of focus as the WBG develops a new Environment Strategy.

“We are currently engaged in global consultations to develop our new Strategy, that will articulate a set of principles and propose an approach for achieving environmental sustainability of the entire Bank Group’s portfolio,said Warren Evans, World Bank Director of Environment. “The International Year of Biodiversity is a particularly fitting time for us to be learning from our stakeholders and partners what role they want the World Bank to play, and to explore how we can improve our performance.”

Click here for press release on World Bank and National Geographic cooperation to save tigers and other big cats.

Click here for a blog post on the event.

For Information: Jeffrey Alexander Brez