The term "biological diversity" is commonly used to describe the number and variety of living organisms on the planet. It is defined in terms of genes, species, and ecosystems which are the outcome of over 3,000 million years of evolution. The human species depends on biological diversity for its own survival. Thus, the term can be considered a synonym for "life on Earth".
To date, an estimated 1.7 million species have been identified. The exact number of the Earth's existing species, however, is still unknown. Estimates vary from a low of 5 million to a high of 100 million.
WHY CONSERVE BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY?
Species extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. Due to human activities, however, species and ecosystems are more threatened today than ever before in recorded history. The losses are taking place in tropical forests -- where 50 - 90 per cent of identified species live -- as well as in rivers and lakes, deserts and temperate forests, and on mountains and islands. The most recent estimates predict that, at current rates of deforestation, some two to eight per cent of the Earth's species will disappear over the next 25 years.
While these extinctions are an environmental tragedy, they also have profound implications for economic and social development. At least 40 per cent of the world's economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.
The variety of life is our insurance policy. Our own lives and livelihood depend on it.
WHY HAVE A CONVENTION?
The conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components is not a new item on the diplomatic agenda. It was highlighted in June 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm. In 1973, the very first session of the Governing Council for the new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) identified the "conservation of nature, wildlife and genetic resources as a priority area".
The international community's growing concern over the unprecedented loss of biological diversity inspired negotiations for a legally binding instrument aimed at reversing this alarming trend. The negotiations were also strongly influenced by the growing recognition throughout the world of the need for a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.
THE OBJECTIVES OF THE CONVENTION
The Convention's objectives are "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".
The Convention is thus the first global, comprehensive agreement to address all aspects of biological diversity: genetic resources, species, and ecosystems. It recognises -- for the first time -- that the conservation of biological diversity is "a common concern of humankind" and an integral part of the development process.
THE CONVENTION'S NOVEL APPROACH
The conservation of biological diversity has ceased to be viewed merely in terms of protecting threatened species or ecosystems. It has emerged as a fundamental part of the move towards sustainable development.
Thus the Convention introduces a novel approach aimed at reconciling the need for conservation with the concern for development. It is also based on considerations of equity and shared responsibility.
To achieve its objectives, the Convention -- in accordance with the spirit of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development -- promotes a renewed partnership among countries. Its provisions on scientific and technical cooperation, access to financial and genetic resources, and the transfer of ecologically sound technologies form the foundations of this partnership.
Indeed, for the first time in the context of biodiversity conservation, an international legal instrument spells out the rights and obligations of its Parties concerning scientific, technical and technological cooperation. To this end, the Convention provides for a financial "mechanism" and a subsidiary body on scientific, technical and technological advice.
For all these reasons, the Convention on Biological Diversity is one of the most significant recent developments in international law, international relations, and the fields of environment and development. It is an affirmation in favour of life itself in all its myriad forms.
For more information, please contact:
The Interim Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity
Geneva Executive Center
CH-1219 Châtelaine, Switzerland
Telephone: (41-22) 979 9111
Fax: (41-22) 797 2512
E-mail via Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org