Key Messages

What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is one of the most broadly subscribed international environmental treaties in the world. Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, it currently has 193 Parties—192 Countries and the European Union — who have committed themselves to its three main goals: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. The Secretariat of the CBD is located in Montreal, Canada.

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is most often understood as the number of different species of plants, animals and microorganisms in existence. However, biodiversity also encompasses the specific genetic variations and traits within species as well as the assemblage of these species within ecosystems. See Article 2 of the CBD for the full definition of biodiversity.

What is the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020?

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, is an overarching international framework for action by all countries and stakeholders to save biodiversity and enhance its benefits for people. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity was adopted at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held from 18 to 29 October 2010, in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (Decision X/2).

Why is biodiversity loss a concern?

Healthy, biodiverse ecosystems provide the goods and services that humans need for their well-being. Many of these goods and services are in decline, such as the provision of fresh water, marine fisheries, the cleansing of atmospheric pollutants, protection from natural hazards, pollination of our crops and pest control. The loss of biological diversity destabilizes ecosystems and makes them more vulnerable to shocks and disturbances such as hurricanes and floods, which may further reduce the ability of environments to provide for human well-being. These negative consequences are felt most harshly by the rural poor, who rely most directly on the services provided by local ecosystems for their well-being. However as human wellbeing is dependant upon biodiversity all people will be affected by its decline. For this reason, biodiversity loss poses a significant barrier to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Biodiversity also underpins many of our cultural and spiritual values.

What are the current trends in biodiversity loss?

The most accurate information can be found in the latest edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO3).

Biodiversity is being lost at all levels:

  • Ecosystems across the planet have been impacted by biodiversity loss.
  • Deforestation, mainly conversion of forests to agricultural land, is showing signs of decreasing in several tropical countries but continues at an alarmingly high rate. Just under 130,000 square kilometres of forest were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year from 2000 to 2010, compared to nearly 160,000 square kilometres per year in the 1990s. The net loss of forests has slowed substantially, from approximately 83,000 square kilometres per year in the 1990s to just over 50,000 square kilometres per year from 2000-2010.

  • Coastal habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds, salt marshes and shellfish reefs continue to decline in extent, threatening highly valuable ecosystem services including the removal of significant quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The FAO estimates that about one-fifth of the world’s mangroves, covering 36,000 square kilometres, were lost between 1980 and 2005. The rate at which mangroves are declining globally seems to have reduced more recently, although the loss is still disturbingly high. Tropical coral reefs have suffered a significant global decline in biodiversity since the 1970s. Although the overall extent of living coral cover has remained roughly in balance since the 1980s, it has not recovered to earlier levels. Even where local recovery has occurred, there is evidence that the new reef structures are more uniform and less diverse than the ones they replaced.

  • Despite more than 12% of land now being covered by protected areas, nearly half (44%) of terrestrial eco-regions fall below 10% protection, and many of the most critical sites for biodiversity lie outside protected areas.

  • The population of wild vertebrate species fell by an average of nearly one- third (31%) globally between 1970 and 2006, with the decline especially severe in the tropics (59%) and in freshwater ecosystems (41%). Species in all groups with known trends are, on average, being driven closer to extinction, with amphibians facing the greatest risk and warm water reef-building corals showing the most rapid deterioration in status. Among selected vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups, between 12% and 55% of species are currently threatened with extinction. Species of birds and mammals used for food and medicine are on average facing a greater extinction risk than those not used for such purposes. Preliminary assessments suggest that 23% of plant species are threatened.

The threats causing this biodiversity loss are generally increasing.

  • Habitat loss and degradation create the biggest single source of pressure on biodiversity worldwide. For terrestrial ecosystems, habitat loss is largely accounted for by conversion of wild lands to agriculture, which now accounts for some 30% of land globally.

  • Climate change is already having an impact on biodiversity, and is projected to become a progressively more significant threat in the coming decades. Loss of Arctic sea ice threatens biodiversity across an entire biome and beyond. The related pressure of ocean acidification, resulting from higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is also already being observed.

  • Pollution from nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and other sources is a continuing and growing threat to biodiversity in terrestrial, inland water and coastal ecosystems. In inland water and coastal ecosystems, the buildup of phosphorous and nitrogen, mainly through run-off from cropland and sewage pollution, stimulates the growth of algae and some forms of bacteria, threatening valuable ecosystem services in systems such as lakes and coral reefs, and affecting water quality. It also creates “dead zones” in oceans, generally where major rivers reach the sea. In these zones, decomposing algae use up oxygen in the water and leave large areas virtually devoid of marine life. The number of reported dead zones has been roughly doubling every ten years since the 1960s, and by 2007 had reached around 500.

  • Invasive alien species continue to be a major threat to all types of ecosystems and species. There are no signs of a significant reduction of this pressure on biodiversity, and some indications that it is increasing. Intervention to control alien invasive species has been successful in particular cases, but it is outweighed by the threat to biodiversity from new invasions. In a sample of 57 countries, more than 542 alien species, including vascular plants, marine and freshwater fish, mammals, birds and amphibians, with a demonstrated impact on biodiversity have been found, with an average of over 50 such species per country (and a range from nine to over 220). This is most certainly an underestimate as it excludes many alien species whose impact has not yet been examined, and includes countries known to lack data on alien species.

  • Overexploitation and destructive harvesting practices are at the heart of the threats being imposed on the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems, and there has not been significant reduction in this pressure. Changes to fisheries management in some areas are leading to more sustainable practices, but most stocks still require reduced pressure in order to rebuild. Bushmeat hunting, which provides a significant proportion of protein for many rural households, appears to be taking place at unsustainable levels.

How is the Convention addressing biodiversity loss and how can its work be enhanced?

The 193 Parties to the Convention have created a comprehensive body of policies, tools and guidelines that address the threats to biodiversity at all levels. The policies provide a sufficient framework to deal with the biodiversity crisis, but more work needs to be done:

  • The Convention is working with other international agreements and actors, but coordination can be improved, particularly with the international trade agenda,
  • More effort needs to be made to improve the capacity of all countries to implement the policies of the Convention.
  • More people and more groups need to understand the importance of biodiversity and the work of the Convention. More effort needs to be made to engage key stakeholders to integrate biodiversity considerations into their work.

Which actions are needed to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets?

Unprecedented efforts will be needed to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. However, with appropriate responses it is possible to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets at national, regional and global levels. The policies of the Convention are sufficient to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. They must be widely applied, in all relevant sectors, if conservation and sustainable use are to be achieved. Specifically:

  • The urgency of a change of direction must be conveyed to decision-makers beyond the constituency so far involved in the biodiversity convention
  • Systematic proofing of policies for their impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services would ensure not only that biodiversity was better protected, but that climate change itself was more effectively addressed.
  • Where possible, the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss must be addressed. This is hard, because it involves issues such as consumption and lifestyle choices, and long-term trends like population increase. *International and national rules and frameworks for markets and economic activities can and must be adjusted and developed in such a way that they contribute to safeguarding and sustainably using biodiversity, instead of threatening it as they have often done in the past. *Use every opportunity to break the link between the indirect and direct drivers of biodiversity loss – in other words, prevent underlying pressures such as population increase and increased consumption from inevitably leading to pressures such as loss of habitat, pollution or over-exploitation. This involves much more efficient use of land, water, sea and other resources to meet existing and future demand. Better spatial planning to safeguard areas important for biodiversity and ecosystem services is essential.
  • Efficiency in the use of a natural resource must be balanced with the need to maintain ecosystem functions and resilience.
  • Where multiple drivers are combining to weaken ecosystems, aggressive action to reduce those more amenable to rapid intervention can be prioritized, while longer-term efforts continue to moderate more intractable drivers, such as climate change and ocean acidification.
  • Avoid unnecessarily tradeoffs resulting from maximizing one ecosystem service at the expense of another. Substantial benefits for biodiversity can often arise from only slight limits on the exploitation of other benefits – such as agricultural production.
  • Continue direct action to conserve biodiversity, targeting vulnerable and culturally-valued species and habitats, and critical sites for biodiversity, combined with priority actions to safeguard key ecosystem services, particularly those of importance to the poor such as the provision of food and medicines.
  • Use national programmes or legislation to create a favourable environment to support effective “bottom-up” initiatives led by communities, local authorities, or businesses.
  • Strengthen efforts to communicate better the links between biodiversity, ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

At the National level Parties must:

  • Develop and implement, across sectors, comprehensive National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) and include clear national targets for 2011-2020.
  • Develop national and regional targets, using the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets as a flexible framework.
  • Report on progress on their commitment to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Individuals have a role and must:

  • demand action from governments:
  • be aware of the impact that their choices and consumption patterns have on the environment.