Biodiversity is defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, 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.”
The importance of this definition is that it draws attention to the many dimensions of biodiversity. It explicitly recognizes that every biota can be characterized by its taxonomic, ecological, and genetic diversity and that the way these dimensions of diversity vary over space and time is a key feature of biodiversity.
Thus only a multidimensional assessment of biodiversity can provide insights into the relationship between changes in biodiversity and changes in ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services
Distribution of Biodiversity
Because of the curvature of the Earth and the fact that it is tilted slightly on its axis relative to the sun, different regions of the planet receive different amounts of sunlight energy throughout the year. This impacts the length of warm, cold, wet, and dry seasons in these different regions, as well as the temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors that define the region.
A biodiversity hotspot is a region containing an exceptional concentration of endemic species, but is threatened by human-induced loss of habitat. These hot spots support nearly 60% of the world’s plant, bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species.
Different regions on the planet have specific sets of environmental conditions, which results in differences in predominant vegetation. Species residing in different regions are characterized by specific adaptations that allow success under the particular set of environmental conditions of the region. Regions can be broadly divided into terrestrial biomes and aquatic ecosystems
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have animportant role to play. For example, a larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.
Use and Non-Use value of Biodiversity
One of the most fundamental values of plant biodiversity is in supplying food for human, domesticated and wild animals and different organisms.
Of the estimated 250,000 species of flowering plants at global level, about 3000 are regarded as food source and only 200 species out of these have been domesticated. In the traditional agro-ecosystems newly domesticated plant types and primitive cultivars emerged from their wild ancestors. Occasional crosses continued to occur between the crops and their wild relatives which increased genetic diversity for further selection and improvement. Many cultivated species may not have survived under domestication without the interchange of genes between wild relatives and cultivated crops.
International Instruments to protect biodiversity
Ex situ / In Situ Conservation
Ex-situ conservation is the preservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats. This involves conservation of genetic resources, as well as wild and cultivated or species, and draws on a diverse body of techniques and facilities.
Examples of In-situ Conservation
National Parks, Wild Life sanctuaries, Biosphere Reserves, Gene Sanctuaries
Examples of Ex-situ Conservation
Captive Breeding, Gene Banks, Seed Banks, Zoos, Aquaria, In vitro fertilization, Cryopreservation, Tissue Culture
Seven international conventions focus on biodiversity issues: the Convention on Biological Diversity (year of entry into force: 1993), the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1975), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2004), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1971), the World Heritage Convention (1972) and the International Plant Protection Convention (1952).
Each of the biodiversity-related conventions works to implement actions at the national, regional and international level in order to reach shared goals of conservation and sustainable use. In meeting their objectives, the conventions have developed a number of complementary approaches (site, species, genetic resources and/or ecosystem-based) and operational tools (e.g., programmes of work, trade permits and certificates, multilateral system for access and benefit-sharing, regional agreements, site listings, funds, etc.
Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international legally-binding treaty with three main goals: conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of biodiversity; fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Its overall objective is to encourage actions, which will lead to a sustainable future.
The Convention on Biological Diversity covers biodiversity at all levels: ecosystems, species and genetic resources. It also covers biotechnology, including through the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. In fact, it covers all possible domains that are directly or indirectly related to biodiversity and its role in development, ranging from science, politics and education to agriculture, business, culture and much more.
The CBD’s governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP). This ultimate authority of all governments (or Parties) that have ratified the treaty meets every two years to review progress, set priorities and commit to work plans.
Facts on the CBD
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. To date, there are 193 Parties.
Components of biodiversity are all the various forms of life on Earth including ecosystems, animals, plants, fungi, microorganisms, and genetic diversity. With its three objectives, the CBD is often seen as the key international instrument for sustainable development.
- Ecosystems, species and genetic resources should be used for the benefit of humans, but in a way that does not lead to the decline of biodiversity.
- Substantial investments are required to conserve biodiversity, but it will bring significant environmental, economic and social benefits in return.
- The Ecosystem Approach, an integrated strategy for the management of resources, is the framework for action under the Convention.
- The precautionary principle states that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.
Importance of CBD
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) recognize impact assessment as an important tool for helping ensure that development is planned and implemented with biodiversity in mind. The CBD requests Parties to apply impact assessment to projects, programmes, plans and policies with a potential negative impact on biodiversity.
Biodiversity is relevant to all types of impact assessment and should be addressed at all levels, from environmental impact assessment carried out for individual projects (EIA) to the strategic environmental assessment of policies, plans and programmes (SEA). Its values should be addressed in social impact assessment; health impact assessment may need to consider the role of biodiversity in disease transmission or biological control. Finally, biodiversity provides commodities for international trade that may be the subject of study in trade impact assessment.
EIA procedures should refer to other relevant national, regional and international legislation, regulations, guidelines and other policy documents such as the national biodiversity strategy and action plan (NBSAP) documents, the CBD and biodiversity-related conventions and agreements, including, in particular, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); the CMS and related agreements; the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971); the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context; the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; the European Union directives on environmental impact assessment; and the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
The “Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety” to the Convention on Biological Diversity” is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity. It entered into force in September 2003.
Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA)
Under the Protocol, the Advance Informed Agreement (AIA) procedure applies to the first intentional transboundary movement of an LMO for intentional introduction into the environment of the Party of import. The advance informed agreement or AIA procedure is designed to ensure that before an LMO is imported into a country for the first time for intentional introduction into the environment, the Party of import:
- a) Is notified about the proposed import,
- b) Receives full information about the LMO and its intended use,
- c) Has an opportunity to assess the risks associated with that LMO and to decide whether or not to allow the import.
Rights of parties of Cartagena Protocol
The governing body of the Protocol is called the Conference of the Parties to the Convention serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (also the COP-MOP).
The main function of this body is to review the implementation of the Protocol and make decisions necessary to promote its effective operation. Decisions under the Protocol can only be taken by Parties to the Protocol. Parties to the Convention that are not Parties to the Protocol may only participate as observers in the proceedings of meetings of the COP-MOP.
The Protocol addresses the obligations of Parties in relation to the transboundary movements of LMOs to and from non-Parties to the Protocol. The transboundary movements between Parties and non-Parties must be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the objective of the Protocol. Parties are required to encourage non-Parties to adhere to the Protocol and to contribute information to the Biosafety Clearing-House.
When a Party knows of an unintentional transboundary movement of LMOs that is likely to have significant adverse effects on biodiversity and human health, it must notify affected or potentially affected States, the Biosafety Clearing-House and relevant international organizations regarding information on the unintentional release. Parties must initiate immediate consultation with the affected or potentially affected States to enable them to determine response and emergency measures.
Parties are required to take measures for the safe handling, packaging and transportation of LMOs that are subject to transboundary movement. The Protocol specifies requirements on identification by setting out what information must be provided in documentation that should accompany transboundary shipments of LMOs. It also leaves room for possible future development of standards for handling, packaging, transport and identification of LMOs by the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol. The first meeting of COP-MOP adopted decisions outlining identification requirements for different categories of LMOs.
Each Party is required to take measures ensuring that LMOs subject to intentional transboundary movement are accompanied by documentation identifying the LMOs and providing contact details of persons responsible for such movement. The details of these requirements vary according to the intended use of the LMOs, and, in the case of LMOs for food, feed or for processing, they should be further addressed by the governing body of the Protocol – the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties.