Introduction to biodiversity conservation and livelihoods

Article, 05 August 2013

Biodiversity is central to sustainable development. It is critical for reducing poverty, creating sustainable livelihoods and helping communities adapt to climate change.

Biodiversity Jenga. Photo: Martin Sharman

Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. It is the lifeblood of sustainable development and green economies. Yet it is being depleted at an unprecedented rate as human populations, and their levels of consumption, increase.

Climate change will bring about changes in temperature and rainfall distribution, which in turn will affect both the functioning and boundaries of ecosystems. Some ecosystems will expand into new areas, while others will shrink, and the habitats they contain will alter. Unless species are rapidly able to adapt there is likely to be a sharp increase in extinction rates.  

Biodiversity underpins the delivery of a wide range of essential goods and services on which we all depend: food, fodder, fibres and medicines. Poor people in rural areas of developing countries are disproportionately dependent on these goods and services to meet their day-to-day survival needs. To them, biodiversity is a safety net, a natural health service and an insurance strategy.

Climate change is predicted to hit the poorest countries and people the hardest. Given that the poorest people also tend to be those most dependent on biodiversity for their day-to-day livelihoods, some of the world's most vulnerable people will have their lives negatively affected by the combined loss of biodiversity and the increasing impact of climate change.

There are effective strategies to tackle biodiversity loss, the most common of which is the establishment of protected areas. But this – and other conservation strategies – can have a negative impact on the livelihoods of local communities unless they are well designed and implemented.

In addition, many of the targets of global conservation efforts, primarily rare or endangered species and habitats, generate few benefits for those poor and vulnerable communities who are in need of them most.

IIED's work on biodiversity seeks to address these issues together – to find innovative solutions to biodiversity loss, but also to ensure that those solutions pay specific attention to the priorities of the poor.

The five areas on which we focus are: 

As well as collaborating with local partners in the countries in which we work, IIED coordinates with international partners and initiatives via the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management.

Read a brief history of biodiversity work at IIED.


Dilys Roe (, principal researcher, Natural Resources.