The degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet.



Biodiversity — manifested in forests, coral reefs, marine blue waters and all other ecosystems — is often proclaimed as a crucial component of human well-being: we are clearly harmed if fish stocks dwindle to extinction; there are plants whose gene pool might be useful to us. And large-scale destruction of the rainforests would accelerate global warming. But for environmentalists these “instrumental” — and anthropocentric — arguments are not the only compelling ones. For them, preserving the richness of our biosphere has value in its own right, over and above what it means to us humans.”

According to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

Biodiversity therefore encompasses the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes. In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and soil around them.

“It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans. Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives.”

Recent calculations estimate the total number of species on Earth to 8.7 million - with 6.5 million species found on land and 2.2 million dwelling in the ocean depths. Furthermore, a study published by PLoS Biology, says a staggering 86% of all species on land and 91% of those in the seas have yet to be discovered, described and catalogued.

Co-author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University noted that the recently updated Red List issued by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature assessed 59,508 species, of which 19,625 are classified as threatened. This means the IUCN Red List, the most sophisticated ongoing study of its kind, monitors less than 1% of world species.

However, “the news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history - extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate (...) Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet.”

Additionally, “the conservation of biodiversity makes a critical contribution to moderating the scale of climate change and reducing its negative impacts by making ecosystems - and therefore human societies - more resilient. It is therefore essential that the challenges related to biodiversity and climate change are tackled in a coordinated manner and given equal priority.”.”

International Action

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), signed in 1992 among the vast majority of the world’s governments, sets out commitments for maintaining the world’s ecological underpinnings as we go about the business of economic development. The Convention establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

Nineteen years after its adoption, the CBD has developed into a complex web of meetings (Conferences of the Parties), thematic programmes and initiatives. Additional protocols have also been adopted such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) and the recent Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing (2010). Today, the Convention on Biological Diversity is the largest international convention on biodiversity as it counts 193 parties, including the European Community.

At the occasion of the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD in Japan in October 2010, the 193 Parties to the Convention adopted an agreement on a global strategy to combat biodiversity loss over the next decade. This includes the adoption of a new ten year Strategic Plan, enhanced efforts by all Parties to mobilise financial resources to implement the plan and the approval of a new international protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation.

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EU Action

The EU is committed to halting biodiversity loss in Europe and significantly reducing the rate of loss worldwide.

The European Community and its Member States are contracting parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and EU Heads of State and Government undertook in 2001 to halt the decline of biodiversity in the EU by 2010 and to restore habitats and natural systems. In 2002, they also joined some 130 world leaders in agreeing to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss globally by 2010.

In May 2006, the European Commission adopted a communication on "Halting Biodiversity Loss by 2010 – and Beyond: Sustaining ecosystem services for human well-being" . The Communication underlined the importance of biodiversity protection as a pre-requisite for sustainable development, as well as setting out a detailed EU Biodiversity Action Plan to achieve this.

The EU Biodiversity Action Plan addresses the challenge of integrating biodiversity concerns into other policy sectors in a unified way. It specifies a comprehensive plan of priority actions and outlines the responsibility of community institutions and Member States in relation to each. It also contains indicators to monitor progress and a timetable for evaluations. The European Commission has undertaken to provide annual reporting on progress in delivery of the Biodiversity Action Plan.

  • 26 Mar 10: European Council conclusions: “14. There is an urgent need to reverse continuing trends of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The European Council is committed to the long term biodiversity 2050 vision and the 2020 target set out in the Council's conclusions of 15 March 2010." Read more...
  • 19 Mar 10: The Biodiversity Campaign website is online! Read more...
  • 19 Jan 10: The Commission sets out possible options for post - 2010 EU Biodiversity Policy

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Role of Earth Observation

The ninth Conference of the Parties to the CBD was held in Bonn, Germany from 19-30 May 2008 and was attended by almost 7000 participants from 191 countries. ESA hosted a side event at COP9, in which speakers from various UN agencies highlighted the overarching role that Earth observation (EO) satellites play in providing vital information to implement and assess the progress of several UN treaties related to biodiversity.

Representatives from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention expressed their satisfaction and confirmed the usefulness of EO data. Earth observation allows users to realise land cover mapping, assess changes in marine and fresh water environments and analyse the surface temperature of oceans.

Introducing the GlobWetland project, funded through the ESA due, Nick Davidson from the Ramsar Convention stressed that "often made up of complex and inaccessible terrain, monitoring ecological changes in wetlands without the use of satellite data is very difficult. The project produces land-use cover and change detection maps for use by wetland managers and policymakers. ESA EO has considerable power and potential in providing the intelligence behind making sound decisions on management and policy."

As explained above, Europe uses GIS in the framework of its Natura 2000 legislation. By way of this method, it is possible to calculate an overall figure for the Natura 2000 network in the EU, which takes into account the overlaps of sites designated under the Birds (SPAs) and those under the Habitats (SCIs) directives. GIS therefore appears both useful and necessary to implement conservation policies and monitor the evolution of protected areas.