Release of the FAO LEAP guidelines on biodiversity assessment


On 22 June 2020, the FAO’s Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (FAO LEAP) Partnership officially launched the new guidelines on biodiversity assessment at the webinar Biodiversity and the livestock sector.  Mitigating harm and maximizing benefits. This virtual event provided the opportunity to present the publication and to showcase examples of how livestock can also be integrated as a solution to reverse biodiversity loss. Representatives from FAO, UN Environment, governments, private sector, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came together to share their latest views on livestock and environmental assessments in order to promote and accelerate the adoption of biodiversity-friendly practices across the sector. 

The event opened with the welcome remarks by Ms. Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, who provided an overview of the current situation, challenges, and opportunities for adopting biodiversity-friendly practices in livestock production systems. “Biodiversity is a complex environmental issue, and there is no single metric or conservation objective. The FAO LEAP guidelines on biodiversity are an attempt to tackle the challenge of biodiversity assessment”, she stated. Reference was also made to the relevance of this tool for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Following her remarks, the Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Costa Rica and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to FAO, H.E. Federico Zamora Cordero and H.E. Johannes Petrus Hoogeveen, highlighted the importance of promoting intersectoral efforts to progress in incorporating and implementing national policies and strategies for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of agro-ecosystems, respectively.  Also, Mr. Neville Ash, Director of the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, stressed the importance of improving collaboration across the UN system on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and emphasized the recent CEB decision to integrate nature in the UN system’s planning and programming. 

A keynote presentation by Tim McAllister, FAO LEAP Biodiversity Technical Advisory Group (TAG) leader, introduced then the guidelines and illustrated actual and potential opportunities for improvement with a Canadian pilot application of the FAO LEAP guidelines. The message was reinforced in the panel discussion with stakeholders, who shared their experiences and findings from various production systems and regions.

"We need mainstreaming of biodiversity in two ways: horizontal, meaning landscapes; and vertical, meaning livestock supply chains or livestock systems. These are two different dimensions that the FAO LEAP guidelines have captured extremely well,” said in his closing remarks Mr. Henning Steinfeld, Chief at FAO’s Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch. He concluded acknowledging the work done so far by the Partnership and calling for new and more effective forms of collaboration to address biodiversity loss.

Key messages

  • Biodiversity is essential to agriculture and human well-being, but it is declining globally at an unprecedented rate. The five global drivers of this loss are: land-use change, climate change, natural resource use and exploitation, pollution and invasive species.
  • While the livestock sector makes an important contribution to global food supply and economic development, it also uses significant amounts of natural resources and contributes to climate change and pollution. This makes livestock one of the sectors with high impacts on biodiversity.
  • There are also positive impacts on biodiversity associated with livestock production. Livestock can, in fact, play an instrumental role, for example, in boosting plant species richness, maintaining open habitats that host a unique pool of species, and contributing to the health and functionality of grassland ecosystems that provide a range of ecosystem services.
  • With impacts on ecosystems that range from negative to positive, livestock can pull two levers to improve its biodiversity performance: mitigate harm and maximize benefits. To fully integrate livestock as a solution to biodiversity loss and to ensure sustainable development for the future, the sector needs to adopt more responsible and environmentally friendly practices.
  • The impact of livestock on biodiversity needs to be measured to support policies and sustainable management decisions. Yet, including biodiversity in environmental assessments is challenging, mainly due to its intrinsic complexity, scale issues and the significant difficulty associated with reducing biodiversity assessment to a single measure or conservation objective.
  • The guidelines developed by the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (FAO LEAP) Partnership tackle the challenge of biodiversity assessment with the objective to provide step-by-step recommendations for the quantitative assessment of the effects of livestock production on wild species, based on existing indicators and methods.
  • Developed by international experts through consensus building, the FAO LEAP guidelines are science-based and relevant to assessments from local to global scale, by various stakeholders and in diverse production system contexts.
  • To be relevant to a diversity of assessments, the FAO LEAP guidelines provide two main approaches: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), based on already available data and suitable for baseline and scenario analyses at large scale; and ecological indicators, adapted to smaller scales and allowing for customized assessments where conservation priorities are defined through stakeholder engagement.
  • The FAO LEAP guidelines now allow for a widespread inclusion of biodiversity in environmental assessments and the consideration of key specificities of livestock.
  • Taking a closer look at biodiversity will reveal synergies and trade-offs between Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while several indicators in the FAO LEAP guidelines are also of relevance for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
  • FAO LEAP has developed a number of guidelines to characterize the environmental performance and GHG emissions from pig, poultry, small and large ruminant and animal feed supply chains. Additional guidelines on nutrient cycling, water use assessment and soil carbon stocks in livestock systems have been published. Combined, the information in these documents provides a valuable foundation for the assessment of the environmental impacts of livestock.
  • To restore nature and to reverse biodiversity loss, there is a need to mainstream biodiversity conservation in livestock production, by ensuring that the specific livestock-biodiversity relationship is not overlooked in the recent developments on environmental assessments. 

Watch the video recording | Download the guidelines