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
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
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
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
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.