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Advantages and Disadvantages of Green Bonds

 Worn again, to develop technologies for textile-to-textile recycling. Should this prove possible the technology has the potential to revolutionise the clothing supply chain.


Green bonds are defined as tax exempt bonds issued by legally qualified organisations/municipalities to (re)finance green projects, where green projects are projects and activities that will promote progress on environmentally sustainable activities as defined by the issuer and in line with the issuer’s project process for evaluation and selection(1). Green projects can fall under several categories including;

  • renewable energy
  • energy efficiency
  • pollution prevention and control
  • sustainable management of living natural resources
  • terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity conservation
  • clean transportation
  • sustainable water management
  • climate change adaptation
  • eco-efficient products, production technologies and processes

Green bonds are potentially a useful tool for funding biodiversity conservation or sustainable land management projects, however the market may be facing teething problems. The potential for green bonds as a financing mechanism for biodiversity investments is explored in the following sections. Following the methods, a background to the green bond market is provided, then their use as a biodiversity financing tool is identified. Finally, the challenges and opportunities to the green bond market for conservation projects are identified, followed by a closing summary and perspectives.


Background and current state of affairs

Since the first green bond was issued by the World Bank and the European Investment bank in 2007(2) the green bond market has grown to over $92 billion, and is projected to reach $130 billion by the end of 2017 (3) (fig XX). In 2016 $92.9 billion of green bonds were issued over 27 countries, including Columbia, Costa Rica, Morocco, and Finland which released their inaugural green bonds. China held the biggest share of the market with over $32 billion in green bonds (3).


Green bond markets exist largely at a national or regional scale. Regionally African and Asian green bond markets are for the most part lagging (fig XX). The exception is China, whose market is the largest in the world at $32 billion (4), and currently still expanding, as new infrastructure for green bond issuance is being established. A ‘green channel’ is emerging which will help accelerate the approval of bond issuance and investment in China (5), this is assisted by the creation of national level Green bond indices such as the ChinaBond China Green Bond Index and ChinaBond China Green Bond Select Index (4). There is little focus on the African green market, and Morroco is one of the few reported African countries to have released green bonds (3). Although Nigeria reportedly has plans to make its first green bond soon (6). The US has one of the biggest green bond markets overall in terms of issuance, but green bonds account for only 0.061 % of bonds issued in the US (7).


Traditionally, green bonds were issued by financial institutions, municipalities, supernationals and agencies (8; 9) but in 2016 Poland became the first sovereign state to issue green bonds, and France quickly followed with green bond worth 7 billion euros. Corporate green bond issuance is perhaps among the lowest, although the corporate green market is growing slowly, led by a few high-profile companies including apple who have committed over $2.5 billion to projects funded by 2 green bonds over ten years (10). Unilever too has issued a green bond worth £250 million for investment in GHG emission reduction, water efficiency and waste reduction projects (11).

There are several evolving standards and sources of guidance on green bonds, all of which have a different purpose and approach. These include the Green Bond Principles, the Climate Bonds Standard, green bond indices and sector-specific standards. These are all currently voluntary, and in some cases, lacking in detail, leading to little consensus on defined criteria for green bonds(12). Green bond indices have contributed to reducing uncertainty in issuance by giving investors a means to evaluate performance and assess risk. Examples of labelled green bond indices include: S&P Dow Jones, Solactive, Barclays MSCI and Bank of America Merrill Lynch(13).

A financing tool for biodiversity

Green bonds have been used to finance investments in conservation in the past few years however given the infancy of the market examples are still relatively rare. DuPont et al (2015) provides two examples of green bonds used for land conservation.  Firstly, the World Bank collaborated with the Chinese government to fund $100 M between 2010-2016 into The Integrated Forestry Development Programme. This project aimed to improve the ecological conditions of degraded forests through the planting of native trees, and increase the governments capacity to reform land-use rights in collective forests.

Secondly, the state of Massachusetts (in the USA), issued a green bond worth $100M part of which was used for the acquisition of conservation rights on 70 acres of coastal habitat in Ipswich MA. This conserved land contained various important habitats including, upland and coastal wetlands.

The author drew several implications from these case studies, the most important being a) collaboration between national governments and large development banks can support large-scale sustainable land-use or conservation projects; b) funding for large-scale conservation projects may only be possible in countries where land-use rights for large areas of land can be acquired; c) state level issuances may be more appropriate for land conservation projects rather than supranational issuances due to the diversity of fund size available (2).

The case studies of green bond issuance for biodiversity conservation thus far, are restricted to short term bonds. While a short time frame makes sense considering the positive economic time preference of monetary investments, it is often not entirely beneficial for biodiversity conservation projects, as they may involve ongoing monitoring or other long-term infrastructure. With this rationale in mind, long-term green bonds have been suggested to fund positive investments in conservation projects which will deliver benefits to future generations (14). Long-term green bonds would have a maturity length of 20 to 30 years, and could be issued by a single, or multiple countries. It is suggested the bonds be issued by rich countries hence reducing the investment risk, and traded in financial markets to fund international biodiversity conservation. On maturity, the bonds would be paid by issuer countries (14).

Long-term green bonds are a promising financing tool for biodiversity conservation in theory as they would have low initial costs for issuing countries, could be issued by developing and developed countries, and be used to fund conservation work in countries with poor economic infrastructure, which often overlaps with the most biodiverse regions. However, they have yet to be piloted perhaps due to the reluctance of countries to get in debt, and the lack of clear guidelines (14).

While it is clearly possible for green bonds to be used to finance biodiversity conservation there is still an overwhelming bias towards transport, energy, and efficiency in green bond issuance, this too is reflected in the guidelines for issuance by many companies, indexes, and standards. In a sample of 50 green bond issuances, guidelines, and standards only one third (n = 16) explicitly mentioned biodiversity conservation (or biodiversity) as potential use of proceeds (fig XX). The current favourable focus on other areas of green financing may then be affecting financing for biodiversity conservation project, and has the potential to negatively impact it, for example biodiversity loss through the expansion of biofuels (15).

Fig XX. Guidelines for issuance of green bonds/eligibility of projects with regards to biodiversity conservation. Specifically mentioned biodiversity conservation = 16 (green), did not mention biodiversity conservation – 34 (orange), n= 50.



Challenges and opportunities

Several challenges to the green bond market and specifically green bond investments in biodiversity were identified from the literature. DuPont et al (2015) provided a comprehensive overview of the challenges to green bond markets and as such informs much of the following paragraphs.


  1. Cash flow concerns

The bias in favour of transport and renewable energy regarding green bond issuance could relate to the more reliable cash flow projections from these projects compared to land conservation (2). DuPont et al (2015) identifies five possible revenues from sustainable management and conservation projects. These are; (a) sustainable commodity production (e.g agricultural products or non-timber products); (b) recreation and ecotourism (e.g recreation fees); (c) Tax revenues (e.g Tax Increment Financing for projects with quantifiable tax benefits); (d) Credits for ecosystem services (e.g water or carbon credits); and (e) risk mitigation and avoidance costs (e.g upstream riparian land conservation to reduce downstream water filtration investments). The cash flows from (a) and (b) can be predicted more easily as they already have an established monetary market, however they do still carry uncertainties regarding vulnerabilities to macroeconomic market shifts and can suffer from conflicts of interest between revenue and sstainability goals (2). (c), (d), and (e) have additional difficulties in valuing cash flows because of the need to translate ecosystem service values into monetary terms for which there is still considerable debate and uncertainty between academics, politicians, and investors (2).

  1. Lack of a ‘green’ definition

One of the most commonly cited challenge to the expansion of green bond markets at a national or global scale was the lack of a strict agreed upon definition of what ‘green’ is (2). Though voluntary principles such as the green bonds principles and the climate bond standards have attempted to resolve this it appears that the issue is not completely resolved, as the guidelines are not mandatory and tend to focus on procedures.(7).  This has been noted as a hurdle for developing a global green bond market as a lack of strict definition and mandatory guidelines creates legal uncertainty for investors and issuers (16). The lack of a ‘green’ definition is also a concern for land conservation organisations who do not wish to invest in perceived ‘greenwashing’ (2). This is perhaps compounded by the lack of monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure compliance and verify green projects (16).

  1. Matching scales

There is an asymmetry between the minimum size of green bond issuance and project costs within biodiversity conservation. Large supranational investors want to fund large projects but finding conservation projects at this scale can be challenging owing to the complexities of land use, land tenures and land rights (2). Therefore, market growth may be constrained a lack of suitable projects, as investor demand may now be outstripped by supply. Unilever stated this was the reason they were yet to come back to the market for a second year (17).

  1. Labelling and pricing problems

There is currently the opinion among investors that green bonds add cost and complexity without any real benefit in pricing (18;4). Green bonds do not currently allow borrowers to access a lower cost of capital, and so many investors are not willing to pay a premium that will incur a lower interest rate for borrowers (2).




  1. Improving transparency and best practice

Transparency and detailed disclosure have been suggested as some of the most important factors in green bond issuance (7), and so taking steps to improve transparency and disclosure from all parties involved (either voluntary or through legal mandates) could clear some investors hesitation (19). It is also suggested that issuers and borrowers of green bonds should focus on sharing best practices related to green bonds for conservation projects to foster an understanding environment to overcome the challenges and realise the benefits of green bonds (2).

  1. Increase new revenue sources from land conservation

There is a need for continued framing of sustainable land management and conservation projects in terms of revenue streams, as this is the ‘language’ spoken by investors and issuers. It is believed that the provision of credible investment models will foster market growth (2).

  1. Global standards

To improve the green bonds market at a global level, common regional (e.g EU level) or global level standards and legislation are required (16). There are already several methods to assess and/or define green bonds including dedicated tools to assess green bonds released by Moody’s and S&P, standards such as the GBP and CBS, indexes by Barclays and MSCI, and national standards such as those released by China. Harmonising these established and emerging standards and indexes poses a major challenge but will allow a global market to emerge (20) and perhaps improve the capability of the market to sustain long term green bonds.


Summary and perspectives

In sum, the green bond market has experienced rapid expansion in the decade since its conception. Green bonds have been issued by superannuation’s, municipalities, and sovereigns to fund a range of environmental projects but are biased towards the energy and transport sectors. Green bonds have been used to finance sustainable land use and conservation projects, but case studies are limited perhaps due to several reasons including, cash flow concerns, nomenclature, asymmetry in funding scales, and labelling and pricing problems.

To foster growth in the biodiversity green bond market investors and issuers need to improve transparency and share best practices as well as success stories to reduce greenwashing concerns. Common, agreed-upon global standards and legislation concerning green bonds may also encourage the development of long term green bonds which will be especially useful for conservation project investments, and framing said projects (where appropriate) in monetary value and revenue streams will make possible returns from projects more relatable to investors and issuers, hopefully boosting growth in this sector of the green bond market. However, it is vital that ecologists play an active role in the development of biodiversity specific green bond assessments/validation and the decision-making process of a global agreed-upon definition to reduce the chance of negative trade-offs on biodiversity and ensure greenwashing does not take place (15).


  1. (2017). Green bonds. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017].
  2. DuPont, C., Levitt, J. and Bilmes, L. (2015). Green Bonds and Land Conservation: The Evolution of a New Financing Tool Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Karvard Kennedy School.
  3. Peter Cripps (2016). A record breaking $93bn of green bonds issued in 2016. Environmental Finance
  4. Joe Walsh (2016). Chinese green bond market to double as it targets foreign investors. Environmental Finance
  5. Peter Cripps (2016). Chinese regulator publishes green bond guidelines. Environmental Finance
  6. Hamza Ali (2017). Nigeria to hold green bond summit. Environmental Finance
  7. Peter Cripps (2017). How to grow the US green bond market. Environmental Finance
  8. Hamza Ali (2015). Barclays doubles down on green bonds. Environmental Finance
  9. Chris Cundy (2017). Folksam raises green bond investment limit. Environmental Finance
  10. Graham Cooper (2017). Apple returns to green bond market. Environmental Finance
  11. Pernille Holtedahl and Doug Farquhar (2015). Unilevers green bond: a difference of opinions. Environmental Finance
  12. KPMG, (2015). Sustainable Insight: Gearing up for green bonds. KPMG.
  13. Climate Bonds Initiative, (2016). Bonds and Climate Change The state of the market in 2016. CBI.
  14. P. Gutman and S. Davidson (2007). A review of innovative international financial mechanisms for biodiversity conservation with a special focus on the international financing of developing countries’ protected areas. WWF-MPO program
  15. Victor Galaz, Johan Gars, Fredrik Moberg, Björn Nykvist, and Cecilia Repinski (2015). Why Ecologists Should Care About Financial Markets. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 20 (5).
  16. Robert Follie (2017). Legal challenges for sovereign green bonds. Environmental Finance
  17. Sophie Robinson-Tillet (2016). Growing the corporate green bond market. Environmental Finance
  18. Tallet Hussain, Debashis Dey and Mindy Hauman (2017). Green sukuk – bonding shari’ah and the environment. Environmental Finance
  19. Ulrik Ross (2015). How to help the green market grow. Environmental Finance
  20. Peter Cripps (2016). 50 shades of green bonds – and 50 ways of assessing them. Environmental Finance

Case study: Regulatory control through International Environmental Agreements

International Environment Agreements (IEA’s) are intergovernmental documents intended as legally binding with a primary stated purpose of preventing or managing human impacts on natural resources (1). They include voluntary agreements, treaties, protocols, and conventions.

International agreements are formal documents that normally follow a similar structure, where they describe the environmental issues being addressed, the commitments of the governments involved and sometimes the institutional mechanisms to be established.  They intend to foster long-term inclusive cooperation among governments and other stakeholders to address global crises (2). IEAs can be bilateral (between 2 countries/governments) or multilateral (between 3 or more countries or governments) and are aimed at addressing environmental problems including subjects regarding ecosystems, pollution, freshwater resources, species, energy, and the ocean (3). Such environmental issues such as biodiversity loss often occur over whole regions, at an international or global scale and as such IEAs are useful policy and legal tools that can coordinate action at a transboundary level. As such it is pertinent to assess the focus of IEAs regarding biodiversity conservation and their effectiveness.

The following report details findings from a search for biodiversity focussed IEAs and discusses the potential effectiveness of IEAs, followed by a closing summary.


The database was used to search for IEA’s. The search terms “biodiversity” AND “conservation” were used to search for multilateral and bilateral agreements, which returned 45 IEA’s in total. At the first stage of screening relevant IEA’s were selected based on the title and returned text (fig xx). For example, if the title contained the word conservation (or synonyms such as protect/conserve), or the returned text discussed biodiversity conservation either directly or indirectly. Articles were excluded at this stage if they were written in a language other than English or were focussed on soil conservation. Amendments to agreements already deemed relevant were also excluded here to prevent double counting.

At the second stage of screening the selected IEA’s were read in full and were retained only if their objectives were relevant to biodiversity conservation either directly or indirectly. Selected data (objective, number of signatories, geographic range, focus area, and contextual theme of biodiversity) was then extracted.

Fig xx database search. A. Key word search query for multilateral agreements; B. Results from key word search query for bilateral agreements.

A                                                          B

Focus of International Environment Agreements

After the screening process 33 IEA’s were identified that concerned biodiversity conservation (table xx). They were signed between 1985 and 2015. 4 were bilateral (signed by only 2 countries) and the rest were multilateral (signed by 3 or more countries). Of the multilateral agreements, the number of signatories ranged from 3 to 196 (median = 7). 28 IEA’s concerned specific geographic regions and 6 had a global scope[1] (fig XX). Of those concerning terrestrial regions, 7 focused on conservation of ecosystems or species within North America, 5 in Europe, 6 in Asia, and 3 in Africa. 7 IEA’s also focussed on biodiversity conservation in a non-terrestrial context, they were concerned with the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Ocean, and the Baltic sea.

Fig XX. Terrestrial regional biodiversity conservation focus (n= 21).

Biodiversity conservation was framed in four main themes[2] in the selected IEA’s, these were protection of ecosystem, species, genes, pollution prevention, sustainable use of biodiversity, and in environmental process. These contextual themes are not mutually exclusive and in several cases IEA’s contain elements of multiple themes, in these cases the IEA’s are categorised according to the predominant context of biodiversity conservation.  For example, (D)[3], The Conservation on Biological Diversity (1992) where the objective is “The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding…” is categorized under the sustainable use of biodiversity as that is the main context or reason for which biodiversity is being conserved.

It is pertinent here to make clear that no analysis is being carried out on the contextual themes, rather the aim of this exercise is to examine qualitatively the ways and/or the motives behind biodiversity conservation within IEA’s.

Fig XX. Contextual themes of biodiversity conservation

Contextual themes

Earth Globe Europe-Africa

  1. Pollution prevention

4 IEA’s framed biodiversity conservation in the context of pollution prevention, all were focused on aquatic ecosystems, 3 being concerned with marine ecosystems (Baltic sea – (C), Black sea – (P) and Caspian Sea- (Q)) and 1 with freshwater lakes (North American great lakes – (Ci)). The objectives of all 4 IEA’s concerned reducing or eliminating pollution to restore said ecosystems to favourable ecological, chemical, or biological states. The ecosystems concerned by the IEA’s had all suffered degradation due to environmental pollution, and favourable pollution prevention is required by the agreements to enrich biological resources, thus the ultimate perspective of biodiversity conservation in these 4 IEA’s is utilitarian.

(Di) gives specific examples of the types of pollution expected to be prevented, including municipal, industrial, agricultural, offshore oil, and radioactive sources. It also identified the control of invasive species as a priority and provides specific examples of programs to be undertaken by signatory countries, such as conducting baseline surveys of the existing habitat to establish a Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem target of net habitat gain and measure future progress (pg. 32).

Earth Globe Europe-Africa

  1. Sustainable use/development of biodiversity

19 IEA’s were concerned with the conservation of biodiversity primarily for its use as natural resources by humans. The conservation of fish stocks was the most popular objective of the sustainable use IEA’s, with 9 agreements concerning the conservation and sustainable harvest of migratory or straddling fish in the Pacific, Southern Indian, and Atlantic oceans (A; F; G; J; M; N; S; U; Bi). With regards to fisheries management, the precautionary approach is cited several times within these agreements (F; G; J; S; U), and conservation of the marine ecosystems where fisheries resources occur is also advocated.  For examples (U) cites several objectives regarding sustainable use and the conservation of marine ecosystems including; a) promoting the optimum utilization and ensuring the long-term sustainability of fisheries resources; b) adopting measures, based on the best scientific information available, to ensure that fisheries resources are maintained at or restored to levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield; c) adopting and implementing measures in accordance with the precautionary approach and an ecosystem approach to fisheries; and d) assessing the impacts of fishing activities on species belonging to the same ecosystem or dependent upon or associated with the target stocks and adopting, where necessary, conservation and management measures for such species with a view to maintaining or restoring the populations of such species above levels at which their reproduction may become seriously threatened.

Sustainable forest management (X; Y), sustainable tourism in protected areas (L; Z), and the creation of green infrastructure and sustainable development are other examples of IEA’s that frame biodiversity conservation in the context of sustainable use. For example (G) frames biodiversity conservation in the context of sustainable economic and environmental development of the two countries (Canada and Chile), and (Ai) concerns the establishment of a Global Green Growth Institute whose objective is to support the development of green growth (a balanced advance of economic progress and environmental sustainability) especially within developing countries, where biodiversity conservation is one of the sustainability targets.

Perhaps two of the most famous IEA fall under this context of sustainable use, they are the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) (D), and the subsequent Nayaga Protocol (X). Both are of a far reaching global status, and changed the perspective biodiversity conservation within the global community. The CBD was one of the first IEA’s to frame conservation in the context of sustainability, it inspired the worlds global powers to commit to sustainable development 4) and has an ongoing legacy to this day over 20 years since its inception (see below).

The sustainable-use paradigm of conservation is a useful approach in many ways as it conveys the value of biodiversity to governments, funding agencies and members of the public who may not appreciate its non-use value (existence value). Similarly, the sustainable-use of biodiversity may help conserve biodiversity outside of protected areas where human societies and biodiversity frequently clash. However, care should be taken to ensure IEAs do not become too utilitarian in their objectives towards conservation, resulting in a homo-centric bias towards the conservation of biodiversity.

Earth Globe Europe-Africa

  1. Environmental processes

Only 2 IEA’s framed biodiversity conservation with reference to environmental processes. They were (Fi) concerned with climate change and (E) concerned with preventing desertification.  Biodiversity conservation was not the main aim in either IEA but these types of environmental agreements are still important as they can have indirect effects on biodiversity conservation through the prevention of adverse environmental changes such as desertification and climate change which are emerging causes of extinctions (5).

Desertification results in declines in ecosystem productivity, diminishing biodiversity, agricultural, livestock, and forestry yields. As such (E) provides country level action plans for affected parties which includes the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Similarly, in (Fi) the importance of the integrity of ecosystems and biodiversity, and the negative effect climate change can have on both is noted.

Earth Globe Europe-Africa

  1. Protected areas and protection of species

7 IEA’s framed biodiversity conservation within the context of the creation/management of protected areas, wilderness areas or species. This context is somewhat distinct (but still overlapping) with the sustainable use context in that the IEAs concerned are less utilitarian in their focus. Their conservation focus is more on protecting rare and threatened species rather than those of direct (natural resources) or indirect (ecosystem services) use to humans. That is not to say that the species or ecosystems protected by said IEAs have no utilitarian value but rather that it is not the greatest motive for their conservation.

Only 1 IEA concerned the conservation of a specific species (Marine turtles- (I)), the rest were focused on the establishment of protected areas (West Tien Shan –(H), Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park – (O)) or the continued management/protection of wilderness areas and protected areas (Central America wilderness areas – (B), Carpathian Mountains – (T), Prespa park area – (V) and the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem – (Di)).

These IEA’s referenced the protection of rare and threatened flora and fauna within the regions (O; T; Di), or the restoration of habitats to favourable status’ (H; O). Some gave specific recommendations for species or species groups to be protected or reintroduced within the regions (T), while others were quite vague and referenced management plans without any specific details (I).

Table xx. IEAs concerning biodiversity conservation.

IEA Year signed Context Reference number
Treaty Concerning Pacific Salmon 1985 2 A
Convention For The Conservation Of The Biodiversity And The Protection Of Priority Wilderness Areas In Central America 1992 4 B
Convention on the protection of the marine environment of the Baltic sea area 1992 1 C
Convention on Biological Diversity 1992 2 D
Convention To Combat Desertification In Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought And/Or Desertification, Particularly In Africa 1994 3 E
Agreement For The Implementation Of The Law Of The Sea Convention Relating To The Conservation And Management Of Straddling Fish Stocks And Highly Migratory Fish Stocks 1995 2 F
Agreement On Environmental Cooperation Between Canada And Chile 1997 2 G
Agreement between the Government of Republic of Kazakhstan, Government of Kyrgyz Republic and Government of Republic of Uzbekistan on cooperation in the sphere of biological diversity conservation of West Tien Shan 1998 4 H
Agreement Of Cooperation For The Conservation Of The Marine Turtles In The Caribbean Coast Of Costa Rica, Nicaragua And Panama (Tripartite Agreement) 1998 4 I
Convention on the Conservation and Management of the Highly Migratory Fish Stocks of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean 2000 2 J
Agreement On Environmental Cooperation Between The Government Of Canada And The Government Of The Republic Of Costa Rica 2001 2 K
Convention Establishing The Sustainable Tourism Zone Of The Caribbean 2001 2 L
Protocol On Fisheries To The Treaty Of The Southern African Development Community 2001 2 M
Convention On The Conservation And Management Of Fishery Resources In The South East Atlantic Ocean 2001 2 N
Treaty on the establishment of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park 2002 4 O
Black Sea Biodiversity and Landscape Conservation Protocol to the Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution 2002 1 P
Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea 2003 1 Q
Agreement on the Establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity 2005 2 R
Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement 2006 2 S
Protocol on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological and Landscape Diversity to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians 2008 4 T
Convention on the Conservation and Management of the High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean 2009 2 U
Agreement on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park Area 2010 4 V
Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity 2010 3 X
Agreement Between the Governments of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Republic of Korea on Forest Cooperation 2011 2 X
Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians 2011 2 Y
Protocol on Sustainable Tourism to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians 2011 2 Z
Agreement on the establishment of the Global Green Growth Institute 2012 2 Ai
Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fisheries Resources in the North Pacific Ocean 2012 2 Bi
Protocol Amending The Agreement Between The United States And Canada On Great Lakes Water Quality 2012 1 Ci
Benguela Current Convention 2013 4 Di
Protocol on Sustainable Transport to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians 2014 2 Ei
Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2015 3 Fi

Effectiveness of IEAs

IEAs identify common environmental problems, and allow overall goals to be organized an international or global level (2). They can involve a great number of countries and so have the potential to target biodiversity conservation over expansive areas, and even at where fewer parties are involved (such as bilateral agreements) they can still address the transboundary nature of ecological problems. IEA’s essentially organise participating parties into committing action on widespread environmental problems including biodiversity decline. This action is then deputised at the national level into national or regional management or action plans, as international level management plans are still exceedingly difficult to carry out owing to the complex coordination of conflicting legislation, socio-economic disparity between countries and regional asymmetries in biodiversity levels.

Taking the CBD as an example, since its inception 1992 196 parties have signed and been ratified. In doing so they have committed to uphold the objectives of the agreements (“the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resource” (6)) Further, the CBD led to the creation of the Nagoya protocol regarding the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources and the Cartagena protocol of biosecurity which themselves have 97 and 171 signatories respectively. National level biodiversity strategies and action plans have been implemented to meet the CBD objectives, the most recent of which is the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. Several other initiatives such as the lifeweb for financing protected areas (7) and the clearing-house mechanism (global information service for technical and scientific knowledge) (8) have subsequently been implemented as mechanism to help achieve biodiversity goals.

However, effectiveness of IEAs such as the CBD in conserving biodiversity is yet to be assessed. A cursory glance at the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (a mid-term assessment of progress towards the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020) (9) shows that insufficient progress is being made towards the Aichi biodiversity targets[4]. 43 target elements were making insufficient or no significant progress, and 5 were moving away from the targets (i.e getting worse rather than better). Only 4 of 56 target elements are on track and 1 is ahead of schedule, however these related mostly to legislation and information availability. Therefore, it appears that while IEA’s may be necessary to coordinate international action towards the global biodiversity crisis they may not be sufficient to achieve action towards improving the situation.

The disparity between the number of international, national, and regional action and management plans for ecosystems and species and the continued decline of biodiversity is a significant contradiction. There has been little research on the effectiveness of IEAs regarding biodiversity conservation, but there has been some research effort into the effectiveness of IEAs in the general sense (usually concerning IEAs regarding pollution). As IEAs are generally similarly structured and written regardless of the topic of focus, and their output in terms of national level action plan infrastructure is alike it follows that biodiversity-centric IEAs may suffer from the same drawbacks as those IEAs studied.

There have been claims that IEAs are ineffectual, and in some cases merely ratifying business-as-usual outcomes (10). Vague wording and the lack of quantitative or measurable goals in many IEAs leaves participating countries actions open to interpretation and prevents rigorous appraisal of the performance of signatories in improving the quality of ecosystems. Inadequate investments in assuring effective compliance and enforcement of legal instruments at the national level further compound this (2). A qualitative study assessing the challenges of compliance with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Africa (E) identified that a lack of adequate baseline data on desertification, poor monitoring mechanisms, and ill-defined policy objectives have hindered compliance (2). Furthermore, the author recognises the lack of specific mechanisms to turn goals into actions and the absence of a time frame within the multilateral agreement. This is true of many of the above IEAs (table xx) and could be damaging as it allows signatories to exploit loopholes and procrastinate in their actions on biodiversity, which given the alarming rates of decline in recent years is not beneficial.  Non-compliance may however be attributed to the incapacity and availability of resources (such as tools or personnel for adequate monitoring) in some countries or states, particularly those in developing regions which often suffer from complex socio-economic and political problems that are inhibitive of coordinated action on biodiversity (2).

Freeriding has also been suggested as a potential problem for achieving environmental goals set out in IEAs, and analysis on IEAs use game theoretic framework indicates that only small coalitions are stable (11; 12). Similarly, (13) points out that, governance systems work well at the national level but poorly or not at all in efforts to solve international or global problems, so perhaps large scale IEAs may not be as effective in achieving biodiversity goals as they superficially appear.

Summary and perspectives

In sum, 33 IEAs were identified that specifically concerned biodiversity conservation and effected biodiversity either directly or indirectly. There is a focus on biodiversity conservation at regional and global scales, though South America and Australasia seem to both lack regional attention from biodiversity specific IEAs. Biodiversity conservation was framed in 4 main contexts within IEAs, regarding pollution prevention, the sustainable use of biodiversity, environmental processes, and regarding protected areas and the conservation of species. Framing biodiversity conservation with regards to the sustainable use of natural resources is the most popular context.

Biodiversity specific IEAs have the potential to benefit biodiversity as they can coordinate international and global action towards a common goal, hence they can initiate the protection of large areas of land, and address the transboundary nature of many ecological problems. However, while IEA’s may be necessary to address global biodiversity decline they may not be sufficient as there is still an ongoing biodiversity crisis. The main reasons suggested for the ineffectiveness of IEAs are non-compliance resulting from poor enforcement or resource deficits, ill-defined objectives, a lack of quantifiable goals and monitoring mechanisms sometimes compounded by the absence of ecological and/or abiotic baseline data. Among large coalitions free-riding may also be inhibiting the achievement of goals set out in IEAs.

The following suggestions are made to improve the effectiveness of biodiversity centric IEAS;

  1. Where possible quantifiable goals should be provided which progress can be measured against and time frames for action to be undertaken should also be specified. In cases where it is not possible to quantify goals specific measure to be undertaken by signatories should be detailed in the agreements.
  1. Objectives should be clearly defined without ambiguity. For example, the phrase commonly observed in the IEAs above “conserve biodiversity within the region to a favourable status” could be replaced with “act to improve the status of rare and threatened species, with the end goal being re-classification as not-threatened” or something to the same effect. Additionally, where relevant it would be pertinent to include priority lists of ecosystems and species to be protected with clearly defined rationales as to why they are chosen.
  1. Investment should be made in stricter sanctions for non-compliance, especially for IEAs with many tens or hundreds of signatures where free-riding may be prevalent. In cases where compliance is prohibited due to the availability of resources in a parties’ country efforts could be made by other signatory countries to combat this. In the case of a lack of skilled personnel, education or funds this may be possible (in theory) but where social unrest or political corruption inhibit environmental action it may be impossible for partner countries to resolve the resource deficit.


  2. Ambalam K. (2014). Challenges of compliance with multilateral environmental agreements: the case of the United Nations convention to combat desertification in Africa
  9. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2014) Global Biodiversity Outlook 4. Montréal, 155 pages.
  10. Kellenberg D., Levinson A. (2013). Waste of effort? International environmental agreements. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper series. Massachusetts
  11. Ioannidis A., Papandreou A., Sartzetakis E. International Environmental Agreements: A literature review. Unknown.
  13. Young O.R. (2011). Effectiveness of international environmental regimes: Existing Knowledge, cutting-edge themes, and research strategies. PNAS 108 (50).

[1] Regarding multiple regions/countries/continents

[2] Note these themes are not mutually exclusive, and some IEA’s may have elements of other contextual themes, but they are categorised according to the predominant context they fall under.

[3] For reference numbers see table xx

[4] 20 targets made up of 56 elements. They form  the 5 strategic goals; A: address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; C: Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and E: Enhance

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