What is Biodiversity?
There are many definitions of biodiversity. However, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity definition that was officially accepted by the 188 member countries is the most frequently cited:
Biodiversity today is the outcome of billions of years of evolution. This diversity includes the wide variety of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species. Yet another aspect of biodiversity is 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 within the air, water, and soil around them.
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for 'sustainable development' - meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of those key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The three main goals of the CBD:
The CBD defines sustainable use as the:
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the web to which all life depends. It provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives. For example, biodiversity of inland waters is a source of food, income, and livelihood for many of the world's population. Other values of inland water ecosystems include water supply, energy production, transport, recreation and tourism, maintenance of the hydrological balance, retention of sediments and nutrients, and provision of habitats for various fauna and flora. These are goods and services offered by inland water ecosystems. There are many other types of ecosystems that offer a plethoria of goods and services that sustain life.
The CBD publication 'Sustaining Life on Earth - How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being' provides an in-depth overview of the importance of biodiversity. The publication lists the following goods and services provided by ecosystems.
The World Resources Institute Valuing Ecosystem Services study asks what are Mother Nature's life-support services worth? The study shows just how much we depend on ecosystem goods and services in our everyday lives. Without fertile soil, fresh water, breathable air, and an amenable climate our economies, social structure, and very existence will collapse.
In one of the first efforts to calculate a global number, a team of researchers from the United States, Argentina, and the Netherlands has put an average price tag of US$33 trillion a year on these fundamental ecosystem services, which are largely taken for granted because they are free. That is nearly twice the value of the global gross national product (GNP) of US$18 trillion. (See How Much Are Nature's Services Worth? and Ecosystems Services: Free, But Valuable.)