Utilitarian framings of biodiversity shape environmental impact assessment in development cooperation

J.J.A. Hugé*, Anne-Julie Rochette, Luc Janssens de Bisthoven, Farid Dahdouh-Guebas, Nico Koedam, Maarten P. M. Vanhove

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Biodiversity is under threat from anthropogenic pressures, in particular in biodiversity-rich developing countries. Development cooperation actors, who traditionally focus on the improvement of socio-economic conditions in the South, are increasingly acknowledging the linkages between poverty and biodiversity, e.g. by referring to the ecosystem services framework. However, there are many different framings which stress the need for biodiversity integration and which influence how biodiversity and development are and/or should be linked. Moreover, there is a gap between the lip service paid to biodiversity integration and the reality of development cooperation interventions. This study analyses how biodiversity framings are reflected in environmental impact assessment (EIA) practice, and how these framings influence EIA and decision-making. The findings, based on an in-depth qualitative analysis of World Bank EIAs undertaken in West Africa, indicate the incoherent quality but also the dominance of the ‘utilitarian’ and ‘corrective’ framings, which respectively stress human use of nature and mitigation of negative unintended development impacts. Identifying and highlighting these discursive trends leads to increased awareness of the importance of biodiversity among all development actors in North and South. However, some framings may lead to an overly narrow human-centred approach which downplays the intrinsic value of biodiversity. This study proposes recommendations for an improved integration of biodiversity in development cooperation, including the need for more systematic baseline studies in EIAs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-102
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • biodiversity
  • development cooperation
  • environmental impact assessment
  • EIA
  • Africa
  • environmental baseline


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