Convention on Biological Diversity

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Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. Biodiversity is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.


Diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists believe that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from 3 to 100 million. Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species - for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-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 with the air, water, and soil around them. It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans. Biodiversity provides ecosystem goods and services that sustain our lives.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. The CBD was conceived as a practical tool for implementing the principles of Agenda 21. Biological diversity is defined as more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems. It also is about people and their need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment. This is also referred to as ecosystem goods and services.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for "sustainable development" -- meeting human needs while ensuring a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity. This pact among the vast majority of the world's governments sets out commitments for maintaining the world's ecological underpinnings as we go about the business of economic development. The Convention establishes three main goals:

  1. the conservation of biological diversity,
  2. the sustainable use of its components, and
  3. the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

Links between biodiversity and climate change

More recently, the CBD focuses on links between biodiversity and climate change, including Report on the Interlinkages Between Biological Diversity and Climate Change. Biological diversity includes all plants, animals, micro-organisms, the ecosystems of which they are part, and the diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems. Biodiversity underlies the goods and services provided by ecosystems that are crucial for human survival and well being. Ecosystem goods and services have significant economic value, even if some of these goods and most of the services are not traded in the market and thus are not priced to inform society to changes in their supply or in the condition of their ecosystems.

Past changes in climate resulted in major shifts in species ranges and marked changes in biological communities, landscapes, and biomes. The current levels of human impact on biodiversity are unprecedented, and causing large-scale loss of biodiversity. For a given ecosystem, functionally diverse communities are more likely to adapt to climate change and climate variability than impoverished ones.

Extensive work has been completed at regional levels on impacts of climate change on biodiversity. For example, Chapter 10, Principles of Conserving the Arctic’s Biodiversity, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report, discusses impacts of climate change on arctic biodiversity, and the necessary adaptive management practises


General website - Convention of Biological Diversity

Library and documentation of the CBD secretariat

The main author of this article is Magdalena Muir
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Magdalena Muir (2020): Convention on Biological Diversity. Available from [accessed on 5-08-2020]