IISD Examines Impacts of Voluntary Agricultural Standards on Biodiversity
UN Photo/Gill Fickling
story highlights

A study by IISD examines the intersection of 15 sets of voluntary sustainability standards in commodity production and biodiversity protection, and identifies key policy options.

The study is based on a review of the certification levels of specific commodities, including banana, cocoa, coffee, cotton, palm oil, soy, sugarcane and tea.

It concludes that the major agricultural standards contain significant requirements related to biodiversity conservation, however, implementation of standards is only partially aligned with biodiversity protection.

27 June 2017: Broad implementation of sustainable agricultural practices, including but not limited to voluntary sustainability standards, is needed to stem biodiversity loss and protect endangered species, according to a study published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The report, titled ‘Standards and Biodiversity: Thematic Review,’ examines the intersection of 15 sets of voluntary sustainability standards in commodity production and biodiversity protection and identifies key policy options.

Starting with the Biodiversity Impact Indicators for Commodity Production developed in the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the publication investigates the degree to which major voluntary sustainability standards operating in the agricultural sector align with biodiversity-related objectives. Such voluntary standards are increasingly adopted in a variety of sectors as a basis for promoting sustainable agricultural production. The authors – Jason Potts, Vivek Voora, Matthew Lynch, Aynur Mammadova – offer an opportunity to reduce the biodiversity impacts of agriculture while promoting best practices, which can also improve yields and help feed a growing population. The report is the first to apply the Biodiversity Impact Indicators for Commodity Production, analyzing criteria coverage across such indicators and distribution of compliance across key markets and biodiversity parameters.

The study is based on a review of the certification levels of specific commodities, including banana, cocoa, coffee, cotton, palm oil, soy, sugarcane and tea. It concludes that the major agricultural standards contain significant requirements related to biodiversity conservation. It also shows, however, that implementation of standards, being driven by market forces, is at best only partially aligned with biodiversity protection. Policy-makers have a role to play in leveraging the momentum and infrastructure behind voluntary standards to promote a more intentional, strategic and, ultimately, effective implementation of voluntary standards for biodiversity conservation.

Policy options identified in the study include: policy support to voluntary standards through incentives for adoption and national targets or requirements for production, which could simultaneously support achievement of SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 15 (life on land); leadership in the development of integrated data systems to enable data sharing and support effective biodiversity management; financing research on the relationship between agricultural production and biodiversity conservation within specific crops; supporting research on the biodiversity impacts of voluntary standards; and rule-setting to ensure market fairness and the overall effectiveness of standards.

“What happens in agriculture matters,” said Scott Vaughan, President-CEO, IISD. “Growing demand for certified products presents a major opportunity to protect our natural resources. The market is rewarding efforts to conserve critical habitats, protect soil and water quality, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. But market forces are not enough.”

Standards remain a negligible force across global agricultural production, as a whole. “If voluntary standards are to play a major role in reducing the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity loss, they will have to, at a minimum, establish a significant presence among other crops, most notably, staple crops such as wheat, maize and rice,” said study author Jason Potts.

“Voluntary sustainability standards are an important element of the necessary policy mix to redirect funding towards sustainable production practices and reducing biodiversity loss,” said Cristiana Paşca Palmer, CBD Executive Secretary. “This report makes an important contribution by providing a better understanding of the role and potential of different voluntary sustainability standards, and what policy-makers can do to promote their wider application and their more robust integration into overall policy frameworks.” [Publication: Standards and Biodiversity: Thematic Review][CBD Initiative for Biodiversity Impact Indicators for Commodity Production] [Biodiversity and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Technical Note]

related posts