To curb biodiversity loss, development cooperation needs a rethink

Young Sudanese girl walking along shallow river with dried shrubs and trees in the horizon.

Development cooperation needs to pay increasing attention to how the biodiversity crisis is interconnected with other crises such as climate change. Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr

Working paper highlights the need for development cooperation to adopt complexity-aware theories of change

Story highlights

  • The Swedish Expert Group for Aid Studies gathered to explore tensions and barriers facing development cooperation
  • Biodiversity must be addressed in a holistic way if we are to achieve the SDGs
  • Insights can be useful for the design of a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

BETWEEN RADICAL AND REALISTIC: North-south cooperation has traditionally focused on capacity-building and the provision of financial resources. But this may not be enough to preserve global public goods like biodiversity. A holistic approach must be taken, acknowledging tensions and challenges, and exploring various leverage points and levels of transformation.

This is the main conclusion of a working paper published by centre researcher Tilman Hertz in the working paper series by the Swedish Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA).

Tensions and barriers

Biodiversity and the eradication of poverty, and indeed all SDGs, are linked. Development cooperation must therefore strive to support the protection of biodiversity while facilitating change in other areas.

This is no easy feat. Development work must consider thematic versus systematic points of intervention, and direct versus indirect drivers of biodiversity loss. These conflicting tensions can make it difficult to decide which areas to prioritise.

Implementing effective development aid also faces barriers such as lack of institutional capacity and the difficulty of finding suitable and consistent metrics. Policy incoherence is another key barrier: development activities will have limited effect if governments continue to subsidise biodiversity-harming industries.

…it is not possible to address the biodiversity crisis without recognising that this crisis is inextricably intertwined with many other crises.

Tilman Hertz, centre researcher

Expert insights

Experts invited by the EBA gathered in February 2022 to reflect on these tensions. The roundtable discussion, summarised by Hertz, generated some useful insights:

  • Empowering agents across three spheres of transformation (practical, political and personal) is key.
  • Leverage points should not be seen as blueprints for preserving biodiversity but rather “conversation starters”.
  • Intensifying dialogue with key actors in the development field and developing mechanisms for improving policy coherence are needed.
  • More specific studies on the very notion of transformation are necessary in order to address different underlying value commitments that otherwise might prevent concerted action.

The way forward

The working paper is published as the world prepares to agree to a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Against this backdrop, it emerged from the roundtable discussion that it may be time to re-think the modus operandi of development cooperation and participants to the discussion provided some ideas about what that could mean in specific terms.

Read Between Radical and Realistic: Biodiversity, Transformation and Development Cooperation

Published: 2022-09-28

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