Development assistance and Biodiversity: What strategies for the environmental turning point? 2009-2014

By Tiphaine Leménager

©Antoine Grimaud for AFD
©Antoine Grimaud for AFD

Biodiversity conservation, synonymous with change in development policies

As with all the major contemporary development challenges, the future of biodiversity is closely dependent on development trajectories and policies. Without profound changes, without real transformations in the current development dynamics, it will not be possible to curb the erosion of biodiversity. Yet this objective is fundamental and endorsed at all levels of action, both by development actors and by those who more specifically defend the environment (MEA, 2005, CBD, 2010; UN, 2013).

Consequently, development aid operators, particularly the public agencies that finance this aid, are called upon to examine and reorient their actions with respect to their impacts on biodiversity. This is an ambitious challenge for development donors: scale and diversity of the territories in question, financial volumes at stake, power of economic sectors involved in development action and the problems of biodiversity, existing political forces in a context where choices are largely the responsibility of governments. This is without forgetting the difficulties raised by any plans to change orientations and action by large organizations, such as development agencies, which each employ several hundred people.

In terms of changing orientations in the type of programs supported and the environmental safeguards that are defined, these development aid operators must take a real turning point. Over the last fifteen years, they have been able to grasp the nature and take the measure of this challenge. They have officially pledged to address it. The environmental turning point has been initiated through these institutional commitments, but also through the environmental concerns carried by an increasing number of their staff, and the expression of expectations on the part of some of their partners, public opinion and public authorities. But a turning point to exactly which destination? And how to take it, whereas we measure the difficulty of changing – the fragility of innovation, the forces of inertia or resistance to change – at all levels of Official Development Assistance action, from the local development project to national and international development policies?

AFD’s research program

To shed light on these questions, from 2009 to 2014, AFD conducted a research program on biodiversity and the sustainable management of natural resources, broken down into a series of research projects. In addition to the variety of cases, tools and fields addressed, all these projects have the same central thread: to shed useful light on action for biodiversity, it is not enough to make efforts to be proactive and rationalize, by which it would simply be a question of setting a target, defining the means to achieve it, implementing the latter and finally evaluating the results obtained. To paraphrase a formula of Michel Crozier (1979), the environmental turning point will not (only) be taken by decree. It is also necessary to pay very close attention to the political and organizational conditions which determine the success of the action.

The common principle of the research conducted as part of this program shows adherence to biodiversity conservation targets based on reason, set out as collective standards and implemented in finalized action programs. At the same time, it also emphasizes the fact that all action programs must be designed and implemented in real situations and systems, which are fundamentally marked by political and organizational dynamics. All the research conducted has the common aim of proposing perspectives and analyses which help to pursue biodiversity conservation objectives by adopting the means to define an action that is not devised in the context of a rationality of the collective imaginary, but designed right from the outset to function in the real political and organizational contexts of development. As the research projects conducted as part of this program are confined to this focus on the various problems they address, they make it possible to outline a more accurate and more realistic conception of the strategies required for the implementation of an environmental turning point.

  • “The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and the earth, between plants and other plants, between plants and animals. Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness that what we do may have consequences remote in time and place.”
    Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962.

Last update in December 2014

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