Loss of biodiversity - caused and solved by globalisation?

Are all global environmental problems (for example change in biodiversity) inevitable caused by globalization and moreover in which way is a further globalization even necessary to respond to this challenge?

There are lots of, more or less theoretical, definitions of globalization, for example: “Globalization (…) can be thought of as the widening, intensifying, speeding up, and growing impact of world-wide interconnectedness.” (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt & Perrat, 2008, p. 2). This phenomenon is accompanied by a wide range of positive as well as negative consequences for humanity in general, society and the environment. One example of an abstract description of the consequences for society was mainly coined by the socialist Ulrich Beck in the mid eighties: The risk-society. When the past was characterized by difficulties of a just distribution of wealth, today in this “second, reflexive modernity” (Gane, 2001, p. 83) the production of wealth comes with the production of risks: It is no longer only a distribution of wealth, as well as a distribution of risks (cf. Gane, 2001, p. 83). A second change related to the distribution of risks is the decreasing of the importance of borders: On the one hand the result of an event takes place in another part of the world and on the other hand a small local event can cause a global reaction (cf. Held et. al., 2008, p. 2). There are lots of economical, social and cultural examples for these phenomena. An environemental example for this phenomenon is the loss of biodiversity. This risk is caused by the production of wealth and has an impact on one of the most valuable global public goods: Biodiversity. Especially the International Year of Biodiversity 2010[1] is a chance to pay the appropriate attention to this risk.

But you cannot say every global environmental problem is inevitable caused by globalization without a sound argumentation. The following text concentrates on the risk of the loss of biodiversity- sometimes called as a risk of globalization. To understand the problematic properly a few facts about biodiversity in general will be given in the beginning. Furthermore the loss of biodiversity and the reasons for it will be described. In a third step these causes will be related to globalization. Finally there will be a prospect if even a further (political-) globalization is necessary to solve these problems.

Biodiversity in general

Definition and Distribution

The most common definition on biodiversity or biological diversity was defined on the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, when the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was initiated:

“"Biological diversity" means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” (UN, 1993, p. 146).

The following text covers all three dimensions of this definition - genetic, species and ecological diversity. However biodiversity is often equated with the rate of species. Because quantifying the other two dimensions is even harder there will be given just an amount of species - epitomizing the other two: There are different estimations about the whole quantity of species[2], realistic ones are about 13.5 Millions, but just 1.5 Millions are currently described (cf. Gaston & Spicer, 2004, p. 48; UNEP, 2007, p. 162).

The distribution of this variety is much clearer: In geographic terms biodiversity is concentrated near to the equator - the tropical regions contain at least two thirds of all extant teresstrical species (cf. Gaston & Spicer, 2004, p. 89). In social terms it must be emphasized, that there is a global asymmetry between diversity and material wealth: the major remaining sites for biodiversity conservation lie primarily within the developing world (cf. Swanson, 1999, p.312). These two distributions are not related to each other.[3]


Talking about biodiversity loss the value of the variety of life must become clear: On the one hand there is a direct use-value: Consumption or production of marketable commodities: Providing products for example food, medicine, industrial ones, recreation, genetic information for medicine etc.

On the other hand there are indirect use-values, more difficult to quantify: More diverse systems are more resilient in the fact of natural and anthropogenic variations in their environment (cf. Heal, 2002, p. 3). This value stands for itself but is as well related to the main indirect use-value: Ecosystem services- on that all people fundamentally depend. For example: bacteria and microbes that transform waste into usable products or coral reefs and mangroves that protect coastlines (cf. UNEP, 2007, p. 158). In newer times lots of economic science tries to quantify monetary aspects these ecosystem functions: For example “Honeybees as pollinators for agricultural crops – US$ 2-8 billion/ year” (UNEP, 2007, p. 161).[4]

Apart from these use-values biological diversity may have a variety of non-use values including

  • optional value (for future use or non-use),
  • bequest value (in passing on a resource to future generations),
  • existence value (value to people irrespective of use or non use)
  • and intrinsic value

(cf. Gaston & Spicer, 2004, p.105).

Many of the services provided by biodiversity (and therfore biodiversity itself) are global public goods and it is hardly to imagine if these services go down or cease to apply. For example how could the agricultural sector and an important part of our daily food production survive without the ecosystem service of pollination; what about the fact that the soil offers us clean ground water we are depending on; what is if one relative is death-sick, but the genetic material containing the idea for the medicine saving his life became extinct years ago and finally everybody himself/ herself should imagine what it would mean to live in a world just with monoculture or with less ecosystems in terms of everybody feeling happy when there is the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Because of the concept of global public goods a change in these goods would haven an impact for everybody on this planet[5] and a high conflict-potential.

Loss of Biodiversity

On the ecosystem dimension of biodiversity there is already a high degradation: The graphic on the left side illustrates this fact impressively.

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2007). Global Environmental Outlook. GEO4. environment for development [1]. Valetta, MLT: Progress Press Ldt, p. 163.

In history there were many natural extinction of species (cf. Gaston & Spicer, 2004, pp. 20ff), but the current rates of extinction are estimate to be roughly 100 times higher than typical rates in the fossil record: There are estimations that the increase will be 1000-10.000 times higher in the future (cf. UNEP, 2007, p.164).

Quantifying loss of genetic diversity is difficult, but it is clear that the extinction of species and declines of population lead to a loss of genetic diversity (cf. UNEP, 2007, p. 165).

Causes for this loss of biodiversity are clear: 1. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation 2. Invasive alien species 3. Overexploitation 4. Climate change 5. Pollution (cf. UNEP, 2007, p. 169; Gaston & Spicer, 2004, p. 135).

These reasons are undoubted- but in which way they are caused by globalization is discussed in an argumentative manner.

Caused by Globalization?

On the one hand there is the opinion mainly described by Heal that the causes for loss of biodiversity are “[…] global problem[s] but not really a problem of globalization.” (2002, p. 2). He argues that of course the degradation of biodiversity was caused by human activities: For example the habitat loss degradation was a product of the requirement land for housing, growing food and providing firewood. The background of this need was the population growth- but this connection was not caused by globalization: “they are not driven by the expansion of international trade and capital movements, nor the possible cultural homogenization” (2002, p. 1). The same argumentation gives Heal for the climate change as a cause for biodiversity loss: It was driven by economic growth and concomitant increases in energy use, but not directly by globalization (2002, p. 2).

Referring to the reason given above this argumentation illustrates that you cannot say in general globalization caused biodiversity loss. Climate change through use of fossil energy sources, pollution related to production in countries with lower environmental acts, unsustainable satisfaction of energy need, population growth and so on are partly facts of the “wrong” realization of this neutral, abstract phenomenon and partly not related to it.

But you cannot separate globalization and change in biodiversity either: Close to the developing of trade related to globalization there were cultivations of rivers- with a huge impact on the ecosystem and the biodiversity in these parts. Another main reason for the loss of biodiversity are invasive alien species: For example New Zealand lost 40% of its own bird species and even 40% more are threatened- since settlers brought their own European species to these countries (cf. Forum Biodiversität, 2002, p. 3). These movements of population and genetic material increase with the development of technology, trade, specialization in agriculture and environment- trade and homogenization in all dimensions (unintentional as well in biodiversity) are main thoughts of globalization (cf. Olorode, 2004, p. 532). A current, alrming example for this is the bee death in Norther America caused by an Australien virus.[6]

Globalization is not the sole cause for the loss of biodiversity, but it has definetely a huge impact. Moreover the consequences of the loss do have a real impact on global environment, on policy and on globalization in general.

Efforts for Conservation

Up to this part of the article the loss of biodiversity as an example for a global environmental problem was defined and the main causes for it, especially in relation to globalization, were emphasized. To solve this problem it is indispensable to understand these processes, because in relation to the five main causes for the loss of biodiversity given above, maintaining biodiversity means undoubtedly habitat conservation and restoration. In a wider meaning this indicates protection against defragmentation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change. Although the climate change has already a huge impact on biodiversity, discussing measures against it is not the main purpose of this article.

The fundamental conditions for restoring biodiversity are obvious, however the realization is more complex - for example, as it was shown above, globalization has an impact on the loss of biodiversity, but you can neither cancel nor stop globalization in general. There are lots of efforts on different sectors to develop mechanisms for conservation, a few examples are given in the following (cf. UNEP, 2007, p. 188; Gaston & Spicer, 2004, p. 138 & 156):

Private Economic Sector

Some companies have already started to integrate biodiversity concerns into their planning - analysing and reducing the impact of infrastructure, processing and transportation. Codes of conduct, certifications schemes, transparency through triple-bottom-line accounting and international regulatory standards are key policy options. There are as well new market mechanisms: For example valuation and creation of markets for ecosystem services[7], payment programmes[8], tax incentives and mechanisms for upstream-downstream transfers. The relation to and the importance of the governmental sector are obvious.

Civil Society

NGOs play an important role in the civil society. Their political instruments are different to the ones mentioned before: In a close interaction with (new) media the main purpose is to inform the society, to draw the attention on the environmental problems and to get monetary funding for conserving.[9]

Governmental Sector

The governmental sector plays a key role in conserving biodiversity: Mainly through initiate standards, programmes and conferences. Gaston and Spicer point out that the Convention on Biological Diversity “remains perhaps the single most important international step towards the long-term maintenance of biodiversity” (Gaston & Spicer, 2004, p. 138). It was the first time that biodiversity was comprehensively addressed in a binding global treaty, the first time that genetic diversity was specifically covered and the first time that the conservation of was recognized as the common concern of mankind.[10]


But all of these attempts for conservation of biological diversity are faced with a structural problem: As it was shown above the worldwide distribution of species is not regular- there is an asymmetry between material wealth, development and biodiversity. Swanson points out that if each state pursues its own narrowly defined self interest in the determination of its land uses, then each will pursues maximum productivity (1999, p. 331). In the same time as it was emphasized above and pointed out by Heal there is a worldwide interest in the conservation of biodiversity (2002, p. 7). To achieve a just worldwide balance between land-use and restored land for conservation it needs a fair compensation between these interests.

Just a further globalization in the sense of the development of global economic institutions including markets can make this possible. It needs institutions and markets that turn the willingness to pay for biodiversity into cash flows from rich to poor countries (Heal, 2002, p. 2).

In addition it needs a further globalization of global environmental politics: Global environmental problems for example loss of biodiversity cannot only be regulated by markets – there must be a democratic World Environment Organization for supervising these markets from the point of “ecosystem interests” as well. Besides this such an organization should realize not monetary actions, concentrate scientific information, coordinate as a holding organization the activities of all the other global environmental programmes and be as a legal entity a serious counterbalance to the Bretton-Woods-Organizations. Global environmental problems for example the loss of biodiversity need global political solutions (Held et. al., 2008, p. 9) – for this a further political globalization is needed.

The essay focuses on the international, political, economical dimension. However in medium terms a further political globalization doesn’t mean a loss of the importance of the nation-state and never of the civil society: International agreements must be translated into praxis by nations itself and in a democratic international system heading states are need to lead international environmental politics as a trailblazer. The civil society will keep or even gain importance: Living in a world-risk-society facing global environmental risks means for every single person and the society as a whole to have a responsibility by themselves. Organizations, companies and institutions can create a positive setting, but in the end it is the civil-society and every single person that has to act, especially referring to the just started International Year of Biodiversity.[11]And it is not hard to act for everybody in everyday life: More concrete a few examples:

  • Become aware of it and in talks with family and friends make (more) sensitive for the problematic;
  • Change a few buying and eating habitats: buying regional (-> less transportation -> less CO2) and biological food (-> less impact of nutrient to the habitat & -> less monoculture), eat less meat[12];
  • Change the engine-provider to green energy (-> no CO2, no mining);
  • Use different search engines in the internet (-> green energy)[13];
  • Compensate your flights (-> less CO2)[14];
  • Become active in civil-society in singing petitions and demonstrations
  • or even commit yourself to an NGO…

To be continued…

Further Information

  1. International Year of Biodiversity 2010 International Year of Biodiversity
  2. For further reading visit How many species on earth?.
  3. An interesting tool the World Atlas of Biodiversity.
  4. For further information about assessing the the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being visit Millenium Ecosystem Assessment.
  5. For more information about the concept of global public goods visit the website of the UNDP, that original developed this concept- UNDP-Website about global public goods.
  6. For further information about this example read an article Imported viruses are likely cause of bee death by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
  7. One example and more information about this instrument can be find at Ecosystem Marketplace].
  8. There are further information about bio-banking, as one example for payment programmes on the website of Ministry for Environment, Climat Change and Water of New South Wales, Australia more.
  9. One example is the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  10. For more Information visit Convention on Biological Diversity.
  11. More Information to the International Year of Biodiversity
  12. For further reading: Article from the Süddeutsch Zeitung from January 9th 2010 [only available in German].
  13. For example Forestle or Ecosia.
  14. Supplier for these services are Myclimate or Atmosfair.


  • Forum Biodiversität Schweiz (2002). Hotspot. Biodiversität und invasive Arten. Biodiversität: Forschung und Praxis im Dialog. Retrieved December 5, 2009, from Forum Biodiversität Schweiz’ Web site [2].
  • Gane, N. (2001). Chasing the ‘Runaway World’: The Politics of Recent Globalization Theory. In Acta Sociologica, 44, 81-89.
  • Gaston, K.J., & Spicer, J.I. (2004). Biodiversity. An Introduction. Malden, USA, Okford, UK, Victoria, AUS: Blackwell Publishing.

This work is one of the standard ecological literatures for biodiversity in general. It covers all dimension of the topic: The natural-scientific background (species in general, correlations, history) to understand current development and describes this. Through undoubted information the reader gets an overview over the certain insights. It is not the purpose to make a statement to the current discussions.

  • Heal, G. (2002). Biodiversity and Globalization. Retrived December 2, 2009, from Columbia Business School Web site, [3].

The author is inter alia Professor of Public Policy and Business Responsibility, Professor of Finance & Economics at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and Co-Director of the Earth Institute’s Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development. His text discusses the relation between biodiversity and globalization- with a statement that loss of biodiversity is not caused by globalization; furthermore this globalization is needed to face this challenge. Probably because he is an economic scientist ecological arguments about correlation between species does not occur in his argumentation- and this influences the conclusion.

  • Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D., & Perrat, J. (2008). What is Globalization? In What is Globalization? Introduction. Global Transformations website. Retrieved October 31, 2009, from [4].
  • Olorode, O. (2004). Biodiversity, Globalisation and Poverty. African Journal of Traditional, Complimentary and Alternative Medicines, Vol. 4, No.4, 532-540. Retrieved December 2, 2009, from [5].

The author works at the Department of Botany at the Obafemi Awolowo Unifersity in Nigeria. Influenced by this background he gives a good, unconventional, illustrative insight through the correlation between biodiversity and poverty, causes and solutions for the problems both themes are threatened by.

  • Swanson, T. (1999). Why is there a Biodiversity Convention? The International Interest in Centralized Development Planning [6]. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 75, No. 2, 307-331.

Professor Swanson currently holds the Chair in Law & Economics at University College London. His text focuses in an neutral argumentation on the need for a global control of the risk of biodiversity.

  • United Nations (UN) (1993). MULTILATERAL. Convention on biological diversity. Retrieved December 2, 2009, from Convention on Biological Diversity Web site, [7].

Final document of the Convention on Biological diversity, signed by more than 150 nations. Fundamental resource for works about Biodiversity.

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2007). Global Environmental Outlook. GEO4. environment for development [8]. Valetta, MLT: Progress Press Ldt.

Another fundamental document facing global environmental problems- there are full information almost on every relevant topic- with a main emphasis on the correlation between environment and development.

  Author: Jule Kathinka Plawitzki. This article was published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. How to cite the article: Jule Kathinka Plawitzki. (15. 08. 2022). Loss of biodiversity - caused and solved by globalisation?. VCSEWiki. Retrieved 22:22 15. 08. 2022) from: <https://vcsewiki.czp.cuni.cz/w/index.php?title=Loss_of_biodiversity_-_caused_and_solved_by_globalisation%3F&oldid=5593>.