Standard 1

Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resource Management

SES Guidance Note

Additional Resources


Conserving biodiversity,1 maintaining ecosystem services,2 and sustainably managing natural resources are fundamental to sustainable development. Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems strengthen our resilience to address environmental and social changes and shocks, including climate change impacts and disaster risks. UNDP seeks to maintain and enhance the goods and services provided by biodiversity and ecosystems in order to secure livelihoods, food, water and health, enhance resilience, conserve threatened species and their habitats, and increase carbon storage and sequestration.

​​UNDP is committed to integrating biodiversity and ecosystem management into development planning and production sector activities, strengthening protected areas systems, and managing and rehabilitating ecosystems for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. UNDP seeks to strengthen effective governance and decision-making systems affecting biodiversity and ecosystems, including strengthening the rights of affected populations including women,3 indigenous peoples and local communities to sustainable use of resources. ​

This Standard reflects the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity4 — including the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of genetic resources—and other international conventions and agreements.5 UNDP promotes an ecosystem approach to biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.6  

  • To conserve biodiversity.
  • To maintain and enhance the benefits of ecosystem services.
  • To promote sustainable management and use of living natural resources.
  • To ensure the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the utilization of genetic resources.
  • To respect, preserve, maintain and encourage knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and their customary use of biological resources.


Scope of Application

The applicability of this Standard is established during the social and environmental screening and categorization process. Requirements of this Standard apply to projects that (i) are located in modified, natural, and critical habitats; and/or (ii) potentially impact or are dependent on the ecosystem services of modified, natural, or critical habitats; and/or (iii) include production of living natural resources (e.g. agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry). ​



Precautionary approach: UNDP ensures that a precautionary approach is applied to the use, development, and management of natural habitats, the ecosystem services of such habitats, and living natural resources. ​

Risk identification and assessment: As an integral part of the social and environmental assessment process, UNDP will ensure that direct and indirect impacts on natural resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services in the project's area of influence7 are identified and addressed as early as possible. The assessment process will consider, inter alia (i) risks of habitat and species loss, degradation and fragmentation, invasive species, overexploitation, hydrological changes, nutrient loading, pollution, incidental take, potential climate change impacts, and (ii) differing values (e.g. social, cultural, economic) attached to biodiversity and ecosystem services by potentially affected communities. Potential cumulative, indirect and induced impacts will be assessed. Potential impacts across landscapes and seascapes will be considered to ensure that any adopted mitigation strategy aligns with regional conservation goals.​

Use of experts: For projects that may adversely affect biodiversity and ecosystems, UNDP ensures that qualified professionals assist in conducting assessments and in the design and implementation of mitigation and monitoring plans.

Siting preference: As far as possible, UNDP projects that may have adverse impacts under this Standard are sited in areas of low value for biodiversity and ecosystem services, and of low sensitivity to the anticipated impacts. In particular, whenever feasible, such projects are sited on lands where natural habitats have already been converted to other land uses. However, UNDP seeks to avoid siting projects on lands that were converted in anticipation of the project.

Modified habitats: In areas of modified habitat,8 UNDP ensures that measures are adopted to minimize further unwarranted conversion or degradation of the habitat and resident species populations and identifies opportunities to enhance the habitat as part of the project. ​

Natural habitats: Where avoidance of adverse impacts on natural habitats9 is not possible, UNDP proceeds only if viable alternatives are not available and if appropriate conservation and mitigation measures or plans10 are in place that describe the conservation outcomes, implementation actions, and monitoring and evaluation arrangements (e.g. a Biodiversity Action Plan). ​​

Mitigation hierarchy: Risk reduction measures follow a mitigation hierarchy that favours avoidance of potential adverse impacts over minimization, mitigation where adverse residual impacts remain, and, as a last resort, application of offset and compensation measures.11 Mitigation measures are designed to achieve at least no net loss of biodiversity12 and preferably a net gain over the long term, where possible.13 However, it must be recognized that no net loss is not possible in all cases, e.g. where endemic species have highly restricted distributions. In such instances, UNDP explores alternative designs to avoid the adverse impacts on biodiversity.

Use of biodiversity offsets: Biodiversity offsets14 may be considered only after appropriate avoidance, minimization, and restoration measures have been applied. A biodiversity offset must be designed and implemented to achieve measurable conservation outcomes (demonstrated in situ and on an appropriate geographic scale) that can reasonably be expected to result in no net loss and preferably a net gain15 of biodiversity. In the case of critical habitats, biodiversity offsets are considered only in exceptional circumstances, and in such circumstances a net gain is required. The design of a biodiversity offset adheres to the "like-for-like or better" principle16 and is carried out with best available information and current best practices. External experts with knowledge in offset design and implementation are involved.17

Critical habitats: UNDP seeks to ensure that project activities have no adverse impacts on critical habitats.18 No project activities are implemented in areas of critical habitats, unless all of the following are demonstrated: (i) there are no measurable adverse impacts on the criteria or biodiversity values for which the critical habitat was designated, and on the ecological processes supporting those biodiversity values (determined on an ecologically-relevant scale); (ii) there is no reduction of any recognized Endangered, Vulnerable or Critically Endangered species,19 (iii) any lesser impacts are mitigated, and (iv) a robust, appropriately designed, and long-term Biodiversity Action Plan is in place to achieve net gains of those biodiversity values for which the critical habitat was designated. Existing protected area management plans are reviewed to ensure alignment with this requirement.​ ​​

Illegal trade: UNDP seeks to ensure that supported activities do not increase the risk of illegal trade of protected species.20

Protected areas: In circumstances where some project activities are located within a legally protected area21 or an internationally recognized area,22 UNDP ensures that, in addition to the requirements specified in paragraph 13 of this Standard, the following requirements also apply: (i) act in a manner consistent with any existing protected area management plans; (ii) consult protected area sponsors and managers, local communities, and other key stakeholders on the proposed activities; (iii) implement additional activities, as appropriate, to promote and enhance the conservation aims and effective management of the area. Where restrictions of access to protected areas may have potential adverse impacts on livelihoods of local communities, the requirements of Standard 5: Displacement and Resettlement apply. ​​

Management of ecosystem services: UNDP requires that supported activities seek to avoid adverse impacts on ecosystem services of relevance to affected communities. If avoidance of adverse impacts is not possible, then mitigation and management measures aim to maintain the value and functionality of affected ecosystem services. Affected communities are involved and consulted on activities that may affect their ecosystem services. ​​

Invasive species: UNDP requires that under no circumstances will species known to be invasive be introduced into new environments. Further, UNDP requires that no new alien species (i.e. species not currently established in the country or region of the project) will be intentionally introduced unless it is subjected to a risk assessment to determine the potential for invasive behavior, in accordance with the existing regulatory framework, if such a framework exists. Prior assessment of the possibility of accidental or unintended introduction of invasive species is undertaken, and appropriate mitigation measures adopted. ​​

Biosafety and genetic resources: For projects that may involve the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms/living modified organisms (GMOs/LMOs) that result from modern biotechnology and that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, UNDP ensures that a risk assessment is carried out in accordance with Annex III of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity. UNDP ensures that projects involving GMOs/LMOs include measures to manage any risks identified in the risk assessment.

Forests project activities:

(a.)  Are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity, ensuring that they are not used for the conversion of natural forests;

(b.)  Incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and enhance other social and environmental benefits;

(c.)  Enhance the sustainable management of forests, including the application of independent, credible certification for commercial, industrial-scale timber harvesting;

(d.)  Maintain or enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functionality in areas where forest restoration is undertaken; and/or

(e.)  Ensure that plantations are environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable, and utilize native species wherever feasible.

UNDP gives preference to small-scale community-level management approaches where they best reduce poverty in a sustainable manner.

Water resources: For projects that affect water resources, UNDP promotes an integrated water resources management approach that seeks the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize the economic and social welfare in an equitable manner and without compromising the sustainability of ecosystems. UNDP seeks to ensure that projects avoid significantly altering flow regimes in ways that prevent water resources from fulfilling their functions for upstream and downstream ecosystems and their services to local communities.23 Social and environmental risk assessments should address, among other issues, potential effects and impacts related to climate variability, water pollution, sedimentation, water-related disasters, drinking water supply, energy production, agriculture, and fisheries. Environmental flow analysis and management should be carried out to the extent feasible in the context of river basin planning.24 See also Standard 8 regarding efficient use of water resources. ​​​

Soil Management: Projects avoid, and where avoidance is not possible, minimize adverse impacts on soils, their biodiversity, organic content, productivity, structure, water-retention capacity. ​

Sustainable management of living natural resources: Living natural resources25 are managed in a sustainable manner. Sustainable resource management is the management of the use, development, and protection of resources in a way, or at a rate, that enables people and communities, including indigenous peoples, to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being while also sustaining the potential for those resources to meet the needs of future generations. This includes safeguarding biodiversity and the life-supporting capacity of air, water, and soil ecosystems. Sustainable management also ensures that people who are dependent on these resources are properly consulted, women and men have opportunities to equally participate in development, and benefits are shared equitably. ​​

UNDP ensures sustainable resource management through the application of appropriate, industry-specific best management practices, and where codified, through application of one or more relevant credible standards as demonstrated by an independent verification or certification system.26 Adopt appropriate measures, where relevant, to promote animal welfare, control for potential invasiveness or escape of production species, and minimization of antimicrobial resistance.

​For projects that involve the production, harvesting, and/or management of living natural resources by small-scale landholders and/or local communities, UNDP supports adoption of appropriate and culturally sensitive sustainable resource management practices. ​​

Access and Benefits Sharing: For projects that involve the utilization of genetic resources, UNDP ensures that the collection of such resources is conducted sustainably and that benefits derived from their utilization are shared in a fair and equitable manner. UNDP ensures such projects are consistent with the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol.27 Where genetic resources are collected from traditional or customary lands of indigenous peoples, the provisions of Standard 6: Indigenous Peoples apply, including the requirement of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

​​Primary Suppliers: When purchasing natural resource commodities, where possible, UNDP limits procurement to those primary suppliers that can demonstrate that they are not contributing to significant conversion or degradation of natural or critical habitats, and if necessary within a reasonable period, shift to primary suppliers that can demonstrate that they are not significantly adversely impacting these areas. UNDP encourages application of eco-labels and Environmental Product Descriptions (EPDs)28 where available.


Footnotes: ​

(1) The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines biological diversity (i.e. biodiversity) as “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.” CBD, Article 2, available at

(2) Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from ecosystems. Ecosystem services are organized into four types: (i) provisioning services, which are the goods people obtain from ecosystems (i.e. food, freshwater, timber, fibers, medicinal plants); (ii) regulating services, which are the benefits people obtain from the regulation of ecosystem processes (e.g. surface water purification, carbon storage and sequestration, climate regulation protection from natural hazards); (iii) cultural services, which are the nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems (e.g. sacred sites, areas of importance for recreation and aesthetic enjoyment); and (iv) supporting services, which are the natural processes that maintain the other services (e.g. soil formation, nutrient cycling, primary production).

(3) Women often face socio-cultural barriers to equitable access to resources and decision-making processes on resource use. With strong reliance on natural resource livelihoods, women are often on the front lines of risks posed by degradation of, and restricted access to, ecosystems and ecosystem services.

(4) UNDP supports implementation of national commitments under the CBD, including CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the "Aichi Targets" at UNDP's Biodiversity and Ecosystems Global Framework 2012-2020 outlines UNDP's priorities and programs to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services, available at

(5) Including the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention), World Heritage Convention, International Plant Protection Convention, and the International Whaling Commission.

(6) The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. See Ecosystem Approach, Convention of Biological Diversity, available at

(7) See the section on assessment and management for a definition of a project's area of influence.

(8) Modified habitats are areas that may contain a large proportion of plant and/or animal species of non-native origin, and/or areas where human activity has substantially modified an area's primary ecological functions and species composition. Modified habitats may include areas managed for agriculture, forest plantations, reclaimed costal zones, reclaimed wetlands, and regenerated forests and grasslands.

(9) Natural habitats are land and water areas where the biological communities are formed largely by native plant and animal species, and where human activity has not essentially modified the area’s primary ecological functions and species composition.

(10) Including measures required to maintain affected ecological services.

(11) UNDP recognizes that compensation and offsets may eventually be incorporated as elements of a mitigation strategy; however, avoidance and minimization measures must first be fully considered.

(12) “No net loss” is defined as the point at which project-related impacts on biodiversity are balanced by measures taken to avoid and minimize the project’s impacts, to undertake on-site restoration and finally to offset significant residual impacts, if any, on an appropriate geographic scale.

(13) Mitigation measures may include a combination of actions, such as project redesign, use of financial guarantees, post-project restoration, set-asides, and, as a last resort, offsets. Set-asides are land areas within the project area excluded from development and are targeted for the implementation of conservation enhancement measures. Set-asides will likely contain significant biodiversity values and/or provide ecosystem services of significance.

(14) Biodiversity offsets are measureable conservation outcomes resulting from actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from project development and persisting after appropriate avoidance, minimization and restoration measures have been taken.

(15) Net gains are additional conservation outcomes that can be achieved for the biodiversity values for which the critical habitat was designated.

(16) The principle of "like-for-like or better" indicates that biodiversity offsets must be designed to conserve the same biodiversity values that are being impacted by the project.

(17) For additional guidance on biodiversity offsets, see the Business and Biodiversity Offset programme Standard on Biodiversity Offsets (2012), available at

(18) Critical habitats are a subset of both modified and natural habitats that require special attention. Critical habitats are areas with high biodiversity value, including any of the following features: (i) habitat of significant importance to Critically Endangered and/or Endangered species; (ii) habitat of significant importance to endemic and/or restricted-range species; (iii) habitat supporting globally significant concentrations of migratory species and/or congregatory species; (iv) highly threatened and/or unique ecosystems; and/or (v) areas associated with key evolutionary processes. Critical habitats include those areas that are (i) legally protected, (ii) officially proposed for protection, (ii) identified by authoritative sources for their high conservation value (such as areas that meet criteria of the World Conservation Union classification, the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization's world heritage sites), or (iv) recognized as protected by traditional local communities.

(19) As listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species or equivalent national or regional listings.

(20) In accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). See the CITES Appendices of species threatened by international trade.

(21) This Standard recognizes legally protected areas that meet the IUCN definition: "A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values." Areas proposed by governments for such designation are included. UNDP may also consider 'legitimate protected areas' that are not legally established but are recognized as protected by local communities.

(22) Including UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites and UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserves, wetlands designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention), indigenous protected areas (IPAs) or indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs).

(23) Potential adverse impacts on natural and critical habitats and ecosystem services will be addressed per the requirements of this Standard.

(24) Notification to Riparians on International Waterways: When a UNDP project could negatively affect the quality or quantity of water in an international waterway, UNDP or its partner will notify all riparian states in writing, at least 90 days prior to a decision on whether or not to proceed with the project, so that the riparians have the opportunity to raise objections or concerns or to request additional information. In situations where there is an international body that coordinates management of the waterway, such as a river basin commission, formal presentation of the proposed project at a meeting of that body will meet this notification requirement. Otherwise, notification should be directly to the appropriate ministry or agency of each riparian state. Documentation of the riparian notifications and any responses received should be included when the project is presented to management for approval.

(25) "Living natural resources" are defined as being the plants and animals cultivated for human or animal consumption and use, whether in the wild or in a cultivated situation. It includes all types of forestry, biofuels, agriculture, including both annual and perennial crops and animal husbandry, including livestock; and both wild and capture fisheries including all types of marine and freshwater organisms, both vertebrate and invertebrate.

(26) A credible certification system would be one which is independent, cost-effective, based on objective and measurable performance standards and developed through consultation with relevant stakeholders such as local people and communities, indigenous peoples, and civil society organizations representing consumer, producer and conservation interests. Such a system has fair, transparent, and independent decision-making procedures that avoid conflict of interest.

(27) Convention on Biological Diversity can be found at The 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 can be found at

(28) An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products. The relevant standard for Environmental Product Declarations is ISO 14025, where they are referred to as "type III environmental declarations."