» Conserving biodiversity for life and sustainable development
07.11.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

Conserving biodiversity for life and sustainable development

© B. Kastner Variétés de maïs, marché de Pisac, Perou

On Wednesday 9 November, UNESCO will launch its Biodiversity Initiative, an interdisciplinary initiative that cuts across all of the Organization’s programme sectors. The UNESCO Biodiversity Initiative will allow UNESCO to cooperate with other members of the UN system through the ‘One UN initiative for Biodiversity’ in support of efforts by governments to implement their biodiversity commitments and to strengthen the intergovernmental science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Biological diversity or ‘biodiversity’ – is defined as the diversity of all living forms at different levels of complexity: genes, species, ecosystems and even landscapes and seascapes. Biodiversity can be greatly enhanced by human activities; however, it can also be adversely impacted by such activities due to unsustainable use or by more profound causes linked to our development models.

Biodiversity is essential not only to the proper functioning of earth systems; it is also key to the delivery of those ecosystem services that are crucial to human dignity and well-being. These biodiversity-dependent ecosystem services include the provision of potable water, food and fibers; soil fertility; maintenance of the ‘genetic library of biodiversity’ – an irreplaceable source of new innovations, pharmaceuticals and chemicals; climate regulation – among others.

Our cultural heritage, our knowledge and educational values are all rooted in our natural environment. Biodiversity has measurable economic value, but its value in terms of spiritual enrichment and aesthetic enjoyment is beyond measure.

The unsustainable use of our natural resources, combined with the needs of a growing global population, is seriously jeopardizing the health of our ecosystems, resulting in the loss of biodiversity. Today, approximately 17,000 species are in danger of extinction. As biodiversity declines, so too does the resilience of our ecosystems. Scientists estimate that 60% of the Earth’s ecosystems have reduced their capacity to deliver the vital ecosystem services on which we all depend. Loss of biodiversity also leads to loss of cultural diversity.

The UNESCO Biodiversity Initiative was created to address, in a holistic and integrated manner, all aspects related to the conservation and sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity from the perspective of UNESCO’s mandate, programmes and activities.

The contribution and value of UNESCO to the international biodiversity agenda is evident, particularly in addressing the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss, such as human demographics; consumption and income levels; the resource-intensiveness of industry; and how economies value – or do not value –  biodiversity. Education, communication and policy are instrumental in addressing these underlying and proximate causes.

This new initiative will contribute to UNESCO’s efforts towards building inclusive, green societies and economies by investing in human development and social capital – one of the main themes at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in June 2012 (Rio+20).

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