Biodiversity Is the Life Insurance of Life Itself

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Press Information Bureau: May 19, 2005
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, encompasses the variety of all life on earth. The biodiversity we see today is the outcome of over 3.5 billion years of evolutionary history, shaped by natural processes and increasingly, by the influence of humans. Biodiversity forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

“Biological diversity” means the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. Biodiversity is the source of the essential goods and ecological services that constitute the source of life for all and it has direct consumptive value in food, agriculture, medicine, and in industry.

The value of biodiversity

Biological diversity is the natural biotic capital of the earth, and affects us all. Humanity derives its supplies of food, medicines, energy and many industrial products from biological resources. Some of the products obtained from bioresources without which life would be difficult include wood, fuel, bamboo, thatch, fodder, paper, cosmetics, material for clothing and housing etc. Biodiversity maintains the ecological balance and continues evolutionary processes. The very survival of humankind depends on these core ecological functions. The indirect ecosystem services provided through biodiversity include: photosynthesis, pollination, transpiration, maintaining the balance of atmospheric gases, maintaining hydrological cycles, chemical cycling, nutrient cycling, soil creation and maintenance, climate regulation, waste management, pest control etc. Biodiversity also has aesthetic and recreational value.

Threats to Biodiversity

Extinction of species and gradual changes in ecological communities is a natural phenomenon. However, the pace of extinction has increased dramatically as a result of human activities. Ecosystems are being fragmented or eliminated, and several species are in decline. The fragmentation, degradation, and loss of habitats pose serious threat to biological diversity. It has been estimated that species have been disappearing at 50-100 times the natural rate and this is predicted to rise dramatically. These losses are irreversible and pose a threat to our own well-being, considering our dependence on food crop and medicines and other biological resources.

The world’s forests are shrinking rapidly. Upto 10% of coral reefs which are among the richest ecosystems have been destroyed. Half of coastal mangroves, an important habitat for several species, have already disappeared. Global atmospheric changes such as ozone depletion and climate change have added to the stress. Global warming is already affecting habitats and the distribution of species. The loss of biodiversity often reduces the productivity of the ecosystem, thereby shrinking the nature’s basket of goods and services on which life depends. It destabilizes ecosystems and weakens their ability to deal with natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes.
Our cultural identity, which is deeply rooted in our biological environment, is also affected adversely by the loss of biodiversity.

India: A Megadiverse Country

Biodiversity is not distributed evenly or uniformly across the globe.


Certain countries, lying wholly or partly within the tropics, are characterized by high species richness and more number of endemic species. These countries are known as Megadiverse countries. India, along with sixteen other megadiverse countries, which are rich in biological diversity and associated traditional knowledge, have formed a group known as the Like Minded Megadiverse Countries (LMMC). These countries are Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, and Venezuela. The LMMCs hold nearly 70% of all biodiversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the first global comprehensive agreement to address all aspects of biological diversity, including conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its use. The Convention was signed by nations during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Since its entry into force in 1994, the CBD has been ratified by 180 Parties. India is a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

One of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as set out in its Article 1, is the “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources to technologies, and by appropriate funding.”

International Biological Diversity Day

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22, the International Day for Biological Diversity, to commemorate the date of adoption of the text of CBD in 1992. The day is celebrated to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. The celebration each year of this day is an occasion to reflect on our responsibility to safeguard the precious heritage of bio-resources for our future generation. The theme for International Day for Biological Diversity 2005 is ‘Biodiversity: Life Insurance for our Changing World’.

The world is changing faster than ever before, and growing human populations and expanding consumption are placing severe pressure on biodiversity. This year’s theme reminds us that in addition to providing the physical conditions for life, biodiversity also plays an important role in protecting life and making it resilient to the pressures brought about by the change. Thus, biodiversity is the life insurance of life itself. More specifically, diversity within species helps a given specie survive rapid changes in surrounding ecosystem. Diversity between species increases the resilience of ecosystems by enhancing functions and providing multiple sources for ecosystem services. This makes sustainable development possible, protecting life from the potential consequences of change, including sudden changes to ecosystems, such as those brought on by disasters.

An additional focus for 2005 is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). This five-year programme, initiated by the Secretary General, United Nations, studied the relationship between ecosystems and human well-being. The findings of MA report highlight the role of ecosystem services in sustaining life and providing protection for the


vulnerable. It also draws the link between the risks of rapid change and the increased demands that people are placing on ecosystems around the world. Ecosystem services provide human beings with options, which is of particular importance to the poor and vulnerable.

The report contains the following six key findings

What is the problem? (Finding 1): In the last 50 years, human actions have changed the diversity of life on the planet more than at any other time in history. Our activities have lifted many people out of poverty, but at the price of a loss of biodiversity. If we continue down this road, we will reduce biological diversity, with life-threatening consequences.

Why is biodiversity loss a concern? (Findings 2 and 3): Biodiversity is the foundation for human well-being. Not only does it provide the materials we need for food, clothing and shelter, but also gives us security, health and freedom of choices. The current pace and rhythm of our activities are harming ecosystems, consuming biological resources and putting at risk the well-being of future generations.

What are the causes of biodiversity loss and how they are changing? (Finding 4): Human activities are leading to the loss of the variety of life. Population increase and economic activity, fuelled by technological change and our patterns of political and cultural life are placing undue pressure on ecosystems. Our actions are changing habitats, the climate, overexploiting resources, creating pollution and promoting the spread of invasive alien species. If current patterns continue, the loss of biodiversity will accelerate, not diminish.

What actions can be taken? (Finding 5): We know that in the past, actions and programmes that promoted conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity limited biodiversity loss. This is promising, but we are not doing enough. To further reduce and to stop the loss of biodiversity will require a whole host of new and stronger actions. Sustainable human development remains the primary goal and we need to strengthen the range and power of our ability to respond to biodiversity loss.
The 2010 target and its implications (finding 6): The size of the task ahead of us is so great that the 2010 biodiversity target will only realistically be achieved in certain areas and regions if we engage in substantial efforts. This sobering conclusion is not hopeless. Humankind can choose to act now for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity if it changes the way it is causing change, carefully chooses the ways it responds to change and makes the right tradeoffs.
Government of India.