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Ideas Globe > Environment > Biodiversity



"There are still tens of millions of unknown wild species out there.  More than half of our global pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors exist because of bioprospecting among wild species.  So it would make sense for biodiversity to be protected and used sustainably, as a raw material for continued discovery and wealth creation." - Dr Julian Caldecott

Biodiversity (biological diversity) is ‘the variety and variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes in which they occur'. In other words, the variety of different species and ecosystems on the planet. We urgently need to reverse rapid biodiversity loss.

'We never know the worth of water till the well is dry' - Old English proverb

Why does biodiversity matter?
Biodiversity benefits humans.
Human activities cause biodiversity loss which threatens continuity of ecosystems and affects provision of goods and services to humans.
Without biodiversity, human well-being is affected.
Without biodiversity, all ecosystems suffer and the balance of life on earth is lost.

There has been a rapid decline in biodiversity over the past century. Why? Because economic systems don’t value these essential contributions to human welfare. Climate change has gained some of the attention it needs, but biodiversity is still ignored. This is a mistake: without it no life is stable, hence our continued existence on the planet is unstable too.

Our Future Planet is working with Professor Anil Markandya, a member of the Nobel Prize winning IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), to raise awareness of biodiversity. Read more about Professor Markandya's work on biodiversity.

Some major actions have taken place to preserve biodiversity:
The EU backed
2006 Biodiversity Communication and Action Plan - aiming to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), published in 2005. This provided a comprehensive appraisal of the consequence of ecosystem change for human well-being.

Yet even in the short time since the MA was published, the rate of loss is accelerating. It is critical that we reverse this loss. While we can and should make a major effort to conserve and protect the habitats that are the basis of biodiversity, this is not enough. We have to tackle the issue through the major decision making agencies who impact on biodiversity.

These are:
Governments who frame policy
Companies which exploit our natural environment
International institutions which seek to promote development globally

Threats: During the last century, erosion of biodiversity has been increasingly observed. Some studies show that about one eighth of known plant species are threatened with extinction. Some estimates put the loss at up to 140,000 species per year (based on Species-area theory) and subject to discussion. This figure indicates unsustainable ecological practices, because only a small number of species come into being each year. Almost all scientists acknowledge that the rate of species loss is greater now than at any time in human history, with extinctions occurring at rates hundreds of times higher than background extinction rates.

Habitat loss is due to deforestation and urbanisation, habitat degradation is due to fragmentation, intensive use of pesticides and other human activities. The most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth are the tropical rainforests and these are being deforested at an alarming rate leading to wide scale loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity benefits humans in many ways. Most of our medicines have originated from nature such as aspirin from willow and medicines for leukaemia from the Madagascan periwinkle, quinine for malaria treatment from the Amazon jungle to name just a few.  Other resources derived from nature and used extensively by humans include rubber from rubber trees from the rainforests, cotton from cotton plants, wool from sheep and lambs, components of cosmetics from rainforests e.g. cocoa butter, chocolate from rainforests.  All of the foods we consume today including chickens (initially from the rainforest), wheat, rice, barley etc have been derived from wild stocks from the natural world and we need these wild stocks to protect our agricultural stocks from future damage or loss. Indeed in the 20th century disease wiped out most of the wheat crops throughout N. American and the wheat could only be bred again from the original wild stock.  Currently wheat stem rust is a disease spreading across the world and has already damaged crops from Africa to Iran and could destroy most of the world’s wheat crops.

If human activities continue to cause extinctions and the loss of biodiversity this will threaten the continuity of ecosystems and limit provision of goods and services to humans affecting global economies and societies. Ultimately, all ecosystems will suffer by the loss of biodiversity and the balance of life on earth will be lost. So, what can you do?

1)    Buy organic foods, pesticides kill wildlife.
2)    Buy locally produced food to reduce the pollution of air miles.
3)    Don’t buy tropical hardwoods from rainforests, buy wood from sustainably managed forests.
4)    Recycle clothes, books and furniture – give unwanted items to charity shops.
5)    Reduce waste - recycle tins, glass, paper, cardboard
6)    Cycle or walk or use public transport to get to work you will get fitter and reduce carbon emissions and other pollution
7)    Insulate your homes to reduce unnecessary heat loss and reduce your bills and use renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption and pollution
8)    Don’t waste food only buy and prepare what you need
9)    Reduce your consumption of material items – think do you really need to buy something or is it a want rather than a need?
10)   Join ourfutureplanet.org so you can help create a better future!


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity an Interim Report
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being
Convention on Biological Diversity Statement By Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf
WWF: Living Planet Report 2008
ELIASCH review, exec summary: Climate Change, Financing Global Forests
ELIASCH review, full report: Climate Change, Financing Global Forests