Biodiversity for development

Our lives depend on biological diversity

The biological diversity of our Earth, also referred to as biodiversity, encompasses the diversity of animal and plant species, the genetic diversity within those species, and the diversity of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands and coral reefs. This natural abundance is vitally important to us.

As a member of the international community, the German government is committed to preserving the abundance of our Earth. Most of this biological diversity is located in developing countries. Yet we all benefit from these natural riches – for instance through their effects on our climate, or our food, or when we use them to manufacture our medicines or as a model for our technical innovations. For the majority of people living in developing countries, access to natural resources is even the only way to earn a livelihood. Safeguarding these natural riches is therefore a key component in fighting poverty worldwide. Biological diversity plays a crucial role in ending hunger, supplying water, generating income, our ability to treat diseases today and in the future, and mitigating climate change and its impacts.

The preservation and sustainable management of biological diversity is already an important element of German development policy – and is becoming more so. This is why today, Germany is supporting the establishment and management of protected areas in order to preserve the biological diversity of ecosystems such as forests, steppes, coastal zones and oceans.

An example from Madagascar – Protecting and sustainably managing natural resources

In Madagascar, which is globally renowned for its unique biological diversity, Germany is supporting the ministry of the environment and local actors in developing and realising community-based management models for new protected areas. It is delivering the support through the development cooperation project "Conservation and sustainable use of natural resources". This project aims to help put a stop to the rapid loss of biological diversity caused by advancing deforestation and the degradation of ecosystems. Between 2005 and 2010, in Madagascar forest loss alone was around 36,000 hectares per annum.

To increase the willingness of local communities to take responsibility for protecting areas, the project includes zones where holy places and burial sites of high cultural and spiritual importance are located, and supports the communities in deriving economic benefit from the protected areas through ecotourism, apiculture and artisanal crafts.

An example from Mauritania – The Banc d’Arguin National Park

Germany also supports the protection of marine and coastal zones through development cooperation. One example is the Banc d’Arguin National Park. This national park, which is home to numerous terrestrial and marine ecosystems, is 12,000 square kilometres in size. Among other things it provides millions of juvenile fish with spawning and nursery grounds – a prerequisite for regeneration of the country's fish stocks. The park is also home to numerous bird species that live there throughout the year, as well as more than two million migratory birds that winter in the park. In other words the park, which has World Natural Heritage status, plays an important role in preserving biodiversity.

Its ecosystems face various threats, however. Overfishing and illegal fisheries, as well as prospecting for oil and gas, are jeopardising the sensitive biodiversity of the marine ecosystems. This in turn is threatening the sector as a whole, which is so important to the country, as well as the livelihoods of fishers. To ensure that the regulation of fishing and the ban on motorboats introduced in the park are not violated, nature conservation is being supported by intensive surveillance activities.

Satellite- and radar-based surveillance systems

Through German-Mauritanian development cooperation, Germany is supporting the establishment of satellite- and radar-based surveillance systems. In order to obtain their fishing or transit licenses, all ships in Mauritanian waters must now transmit precise data on their position and comply with the prescribed fishing zones and times. Germany is also supporting participation in nature conservation by the local population, professionalisation of the park management, and the sustainable financing of the conservation system through an international fund. It is also supporting the creation of a cross-sectoral coordination and steering committee.

These activities are designed not only to preserve marine and coastal diversity, but also to protect the food security and incomes of the local population through the extremely important "services" performed by marine and coastal ecosystems.

Key areas of German involvement

We see our commitment to protected areas not only as a way of helping preserve global species diversity, but also as a specific contribution toward protecting the ecosystem "services" that are vitally important to human life and survival. Many of the species that occur in these areas, and the potential they hold for human development, have yet to be discovered.

The global Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015, for instance, also include numerous references to the preservation and sustainable management of biological diversity, as we as to the fair distribution of the benefits generated from its use.

In this context, the German government will focus on the contribution made by biodiversity to

  1. climate change mitigation and adaptation
  2. food security
  3. health
  4. sustainable economic development

Each and every individual can support the preservation of biological diversity themselves – for instance by purchasing food that has been produced sustainably and fairly. This relieves the pressure placed our ecosystems. We will then preserve the vital natural resources on which an intact planet depends, not only for ourselves, but also for generations to come.

Biodiversity protects the climate

For ourselves and for the people in developing countries who are particularly hard hit by climate change, preserving biological diversity plays a central role in climate action.

Intact ecosystems can stabilise the climate and thus slow the pace of climate change. They mitigate fluctuations in temperature. They store water and emit it at a constant rate. They form new soil and protect it against erosion by wind and rain, which is either becoming increasingly rare or all the heavier in many places due to climate change. They produce oxygen and absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which causes climate change. Our ecosystems thus mitigate the impacts of climate change, protect for instance against storm surges and rising sea levels, and prevent droughts, crop failures and hunger.

Increasingly rapid climate changes are overstretching the ability of many species to adapt, however. These species are being displaced and are no longer able to perform their tasks within their ecosystem.

Together with partner countries the German government is supporting sustainable forest management that preserves people's livelihoods, for instance.

Forests play a key role as carbon sinks and the world's "air conditioning systems". At the same time they sustain the livelihoods of around 1.6 billion people. Thirty per cent of the surface area of our planet is covered by forests, yet every year some 13 million hectares of forest are lost – an area one third the size of Germany.

Nature’s bounty: Biodiversity and food security

Intact ecosystems are key to feeding the world's growing population. They maintain the water cycle, provide safe drinking water, ensure fertile soils and are the source of food for countless people. In developing countries, 200 million people are dependent on fisheries alone. Ensuring food and nutrition security, now and in the future, is a paramount goal of German development policy. The sustainable management and protection of our natural resources play an important role in this. Fish stocks must have an opportunity to regenerate, and soils must be managed so that their nutrients are preserved. At the same time we need a diversity of insects and other animals in order to pollinate crops, for instance. And without them, we cannot produce enough food for all.

Climate change also means that the adaptability of plants, animals and microorganisms is becoming more and more important. In the future it will not be possible to ensure global food security unless these organisms are resilient to extreme weather conditions such as drought and heat, as well as new pests and diseases. The greater the diversity of plants, animals and microorganisms, the more likely we are to achieve this.

Nature’s medicine cabinet – Biodiversity and health

The diversity of our plants, animals and ecosystems is crucially important for a healthy life and medical care for all. This is because it creates opportunities to develop new substances to fight both known diseases and diseases that may yet emerge. The German government is committed to the well-being and health of people the world over – particularly in developing countries. This is another reason why the protection of biological diversity is an important element of international development cooperation.

Nature's medicine cabinet has two drawers.

People have been using medicinal plants for millennia. To this day, for 80 per cent of people in Africa for instance they remain the most important source of medicines. Knowledge of the powers of these plants is even more important for our lives than it seems at first glance, however. Many medicines manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry depend on the raw materials of nature.

Modern medicine also observes how nature works and the principles on which it operates. Scientists are currently conducting research into frog secretions with a view to fighting HIV and developing painkillers. Naked mole-rats do not get cancer and live long lives – biologists are studying the reasons why. Each time a species is lost, this further limits the potential for developing new medicines available to humankind.

Preserving biodiversity means keeping the door of nature's medicine cabinet open for future generations.

Biodiversity — A source of income and an economic resource

Biodiversity-rich developing countries have long complained that scientists and companies use genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and develop numerous profitable products, without asking the countries or indigenous peoples and local populations concerned for permission. Nor have they shared the benefits fairly.

Based on the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS) adopted in 2010, the German government is supporting developing countries in establishing ABS laws on access to resources and knowledge. It is also providing training on negotiating effective ABS agreements designed to ensure benefit-sharing.

The EU has also adopted an EBS regulation establishing a monitoring and reporting system in the member states to review the compliance of researchers and firms with laws and agreements. On behalf of the BMZ and other donors, through its ABS initiative the GIZ is working with developing countries to negotiate various highly specific agreements. These cover for instance the industrial use of salt- and heat-loving microbes from the soda lakes of Kenya, the sustainable use of soft corals from the Bahamas as an anti-inflammatory component of cosmetics, and the implementation of "good ABS practices" in Indian communities supplying raw materials for Ayurvedic research and medicinal drug manufacture. The ABS principle will be used to promote sustainable development, and to deliver research findings and funding to preserve biological diversity in the countries of origin.