Does Poverty Rise as Biodiversity Falls?

10 Sep 2010

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There is a strong link between biodiversity and poverty argues, economist, Pavan Sukhdev, head of the United Nations (UN) Green Economy Initiative.

The typical view taken is that it's a choice. You can have biodiversity or you can have poverty. You can have development or you can have nature, but not both. 

This is false thinking, contends Sukhdev, as it is not the case that biodiversity is just the preserve of the rich. 

Biodiversty is valuable to everyone, but is an absolute necessity for the poor.

For example, forests provide flood prevention and drought control, which poor farmers need. Forests provide nutrients and fresh water which go into the fields of poor farmers. They also provide leaf litter for cattle and wood fuel for poor families.

In trying to assess the economic value of nature, an attempt was made to determine what the economic impact of the loss of biodiversity would be by posing the following question: "What if the forest were lost?"

According to Sukhdev, in  Brazil it would probably have an impact of 10% of GDP, if all ecosystem services were lost due to deforestation. In india that figure would be 16% and in Indonesia, 21%.

But by asking the question differently, "Who suffers most if the forest is lost?" A different answer emerges.

Thus, figures were recalculated to find out not what are ecosystem services as a percentage of GDP, but what are ecosystem services as a percentage of the GDP of the poor?

This resulted in some rather different results. In the case of Indonesia it was 75%, for India it was 47% and for Brazilian tribal and forest dependents, 89%.

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