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A GDP for biodiversity: a new index for biodiversity health

03 December 2020


Biodiversity urgently needs a new comprehensive measurement, comparable to Gross Domestic Product in economics, to gain national policy traction and drive action, say scientists.

In a report led by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in partnership with the Luc Hoffmann Institute, a team of scientists, policy-makers and stakeholders sets out the case and framework for a new index for the state of biodiversity and its contributions to people: the Multidimensional Biodiversity Index (MBI).

The MBI would bring together the many dimensions of biodiversity, including its contribution to people and economies, under one integrated measure. The index would use input data from indicators agreed within the Convention on Biological Diversity’s monitoring framework . The MBI is still under development, with authors of the report currently testing the MBI in pilot countries, including Switzerland and Mexico.

Biodiversity loss continues at an unprecedented rate. The Living Planet Report found that populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an average decline of 68% since 1970. The recent Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 found that none of the global targets agreed under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will have been fully met by the 2020 deadline.

This report proposes a fundamental shift in how we address the biodiversity crisis at the national and global level. Current biodiversity measures are narrow and fragmented, and they do not relate to human development needs. This makes it difficult for decision makers to make effective political use of the data and evidence gathered by scientists and to build biodiversity into their wider socio-economic political agendas.

Corli Pretorius, Deputy Director, UNEP-WCMC, said: “Destroying habitats and exploiting nature puts our own health at risk, and yet biodiversity loss continues at a rapid pace. If we are to tackle the global biodiversity crisis, biodiversity health needs its own relatable measurement, like the Gross Domestic Product in economics, to translate global ambition into national implementation and raise public awareness.”

Indices simplify complex subjects into communicable and actionable measurements. Such indices already exist in other fields, for example Gross Domestic Product, the Multidimensional Poverty Index, and the Human Development Index. Clear indices help steer resource mobilisation, political action and public advocacy.

The report finds that an equivalent measurement for biodiversity is essential to gaining policy traction and making the transformative changes to create better outcomes for people and for nature.

Carolina Soto-Navarro, lead author of the report, UNEP-WCMC, said:

“The next decade is crucial for tackling the global nature crisis. As a ‘biodiversity lens’ for sustainability, the MBI will help countries monitor ‘biodiversity health’ and determine whether we are living within the regenerative capacity of nature, or if we are piling up ecological debt for future generations.”

The MBI would account for the links between people and nature by including measures of how our socio-economic systems depend and impact on biodiversity. In the report, authors say we need to address biodiversity loss with a new holistic approach that considers nature and people as equal parts of a healthy system.

This report comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the link between human health and ecosystem health. 75% of all emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19 are zoonotic (transmitted to people from other animals).

Adrian Dellecker, Head of Strategy and Development, Luc Hoffmann Institute, commented:

“The MBI is a high level index that aims to capture the trends in biodiversity as well as its contributions to society and the ways in which political agendas respond. It is a strong tool with which to advocate for nature that we hope will elevate biodiversity to its rightful place on policy agendas – and in doing so, protect nature while supporting sustainable human development.”