Biodiversity is defined as the variety of life on earth, encompassing living networks of plants, animals, their surrounding environments, and the interdependent nature of all living organisms.

In recognition of the importance of biodiversity, the United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. To celebrate this important year, the UN involved many different international organizations and has promoted greater awareness of the importance of Biodiversity to humanity’s continued existence. The World Bank is a significant partner in the drive to preserve biodiversity around the world and has undertaken the task of helping countries implement measures to protect their biodiversity by acting as an enforcement mechanism to encourage compliance with the Convention on Biodiversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on December 29, 1993 and has been signed by 193 states.It was inspired by a growing global commitment to sustainable development, and represents “a dramatic step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.” The CBD links the protection of biodiversity to human rights because understanding biodiversity can lead to future improvements in the quality of life, providing better, more affordable healthcare, and growing sustainable food. The CBD acknowledges that substantial investments are required to “address the loss of biological diversity” and asserts that such investments will bring significant environmental, social, and economic benefits. The World Bank, recognizing the importance of this Convention, has openly committed to facilitating state compliance creating an innovative enforcement mechanism.

A direct enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with the CBD was not envisaged by the drafters. Instead, the CBD relies on states to adopt or change their own domestic legislation to give it legal force. Article 27 of the CBD includes a tiered dispute resolution process with a clause permitting the International Court of Justice to claim jurisdiction over violations of the Convention through an optional referral process. Further, Article 14(2) requires the Conference of Parties (COP), a committee created by the CBD as an investigative and review body, to examine “the issue of liability and redress, including restoration and compensation, for damage to biological diversity.” Because the CBD is not enforced by a commission or other regulating body, the COP has only been authorized to engage in information gathering. This enforcement gap has opened the door for non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations to help create alternative and innovative solutions to ensure compliance.

The World Bank’s investments have helped to initiate state protection of the world’s biodiversity. However, direct monetary support has not come with concrete incentives, and thus has proven insufficient. This deficiency has not gone unnoticed by the heads of the World Bank, which has committed to supporting the goals underlying the CBD. Speaking at the opening in of the Tenth Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) in October 2010, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said that the Bank would increase support for the conservation of the world’s natural resources, noting that protecting ecosystems and biodiversity were central to overcoming poverty. The Bank also announced a pilot program to increase involvement in protecting biodiversity by “turn[ing] nature into numbers” through a study on how the ecosystem affects state economies. Ten countries, including CBD signatories India and Colombia, will take part in the project, which aims to give finance ministers a more complete “picture of what their countries’ assets are worth.” By linking the economic value of the state to protection of its biodiversity, the World Bank is encouraging state leaders to invest in environmental measures. World Bank development program benefits are directly linked to the total net worth of a state’s economy. Adding the value of a state’s biodiversity to the state’s net worth increases the benefits eligibility of that state, providing a monetary incentive to meet CBD obligations.

By offering economic incentives for their compliance, the World Bank plays an instrumental role in encouraging states to comply with their CBD obligations. The World Bank pilot program may even establish a system of enforceable, de facto sanctions on states that do not protect their biodiversity by lowering the economic net worth of such states, making the them beneficiaries of fewer development funds. Offering economic incentives serves as a way to encourage compliance with the CBD and strengthen the global commitment to the preservation of the world’s disappearing biodiversity.