By Katrina Borromeo, Nov 4

Katrina Borromeo

Hitting many birds with one stone: Bolivia’s policy for climate, biodiversity and economy

The issues of climate change, biodiversity loss and economic meltdown are real problems affecting real people – and policies integrating all three are called for.

Bolivia made the news early this year for being the first country to host a “People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth”. Convened by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, the conference gathered around 30,000 delegates from the ground up – farmers, indigenous groups, local leaders and some high level politicians.

A farmer watches his rice plants as storm clouds loom in the background

The conference gave a voice to thousands of farmers who are bearing the brunt of Nature’s wrath. Occurrences of forest fires and floods are on a rapid rise, causing farmers and indigenous groups to lose their homes and livelihoods. These natural disasters have also cause soild erosion, desertification, vegetable depletion and the contamination of water bodies which leads to a substantial decline in agricultural productivity. Rural people often find themselves with no other choice but to abandon their lots and move to the already crowded cities.1

The implications are serious. Agriculture is one of the main drivers of Bolivia’s economy. It contributes 20% to the national GDP and employs about 65% of the country’s workforce.2 A much needed policy to combat climate change should be in place to help rehabilitate the agriculture sector, spur economic development and improve the well-being of the poorest of the poor.

A cross-cutting approach

There are many ways of tackling climate change. Here at TEEB we suggest that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to improve resiliency against the changing climate is by protecting biodiversity and ecosystems and use them sustainably in the case of culturally modified systems. An ecosystem based approach to climate change adaptation is crucial to ensure that farmers still get the necessary services from Nature.3

Ecosystem-based approaches seek to maintain ecological functions at the landscape scale in combination with multi-functional land uses. They represent a potential triple win measure: they help to preserve and restore natural ecosystems; mitigate climate change by conserving or enhancing carbon stocks or by reducing emissions caused by ecosystem degradation and loss; and provide cost effective protection against some of the threats resulting from climate change.4

Bolivia’s new vision

Sandwiched between the mighty Amazon forests and Andes Mountains, Bolivia is a biodiversity-rich but economically-poor country. It is also most vulnerable to climate change.5 To have a real shot at economic development, the government recognizes that it should safeguard the environment as well. Protecting the environment, social development and improving participation of the civil society are in fact the three pillars of a new vision for Bolivia , according to President Evo Morales.

A girl cycles on the national highway in Altiplano, BoliviaGuided by this new vision, the climate change adaptation strategy of Bolivia’s government center mostly on ecosystem issues which highlight the significance of ecosystem services for human well-being and development in the face of climate change. The six strategies include:

• Sustainable forest management;

• Enhancing the efficiency of industrialization processes;

• Reducing habitat fragmentation;

• Improving soil and water resource management, agriculture research and technology transfer;

• Identifying pastures resistant to climate change and improving livestock management;

• Coordinating water use and water conservation.6

The World Bank has also initiated a study on the Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change (EACC) and is assessing the costs of adaptation within a broader and national context. Similar efforts of identifying adaptation strategies and their costs are undertaken in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Samoa and Vietnam.

Climate change is a growing problem for many sectors in many countries. Green structural policies that take into account the potential of ecosystems for mitigating negative impacts from climate change can often provide cost-effective solutions (e.g. ecosystem based adaptation). Such ecosystem-based approaches can help to build resilience of both local development and ecosystems to the negative impacts of climate change – which is most needed in developing countries like Bolivia.

  1. World Bank (2009b) Convenient solutions to an Inconvenient truth: Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change. Environmental Department World Bank, Washington. and World Bank (2009c) Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change. []
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  3. TEEB for National Policy Makers Chapter 9 page 23. []
  4. Paterson, J. S.; Araújo, M. B.; Berry, P. M.; Piper, J. M. and Rounsevell, M. D. A. R. (2008) Mitigation, adaptation and the threat to biodiversity. Conservation Biology 22: 1352-1355. []
  5.,,menuPK:322289~pagePK:141132~piPK:141107~theSitePK:322279,00.html []
  6. []

About Katrina Borromeo

Katrina is a junkie of all trades, and a master of some. She has traveled in many countries attempting to solve the puzzle of “development” but in the end just got puzzled. In between work and language courses, she dabbles into science writing, kickboxing, piano playing and daydreaming about the next adventure. She loves the color purple, but is a “greenie” at heart. Katrina holds a Masters in Global Studies from Albert Ludwigs Universitaet Freiburg, Germany, University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa and Jawaharlal Nehru University, India; and a Bachelors in Development Communication from the University of the Philippines.
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