Biodiversity—the variety of life—provides critical ecosystem services on which human lives depend: pure air, drinking water and fertile soil. Yet we are losing it fast. We are using more and more of our planet’s resources at the expense of future generations. Governments recognize the need to take action, but too little is being done at too slow a rate, and our efforts need to be geared up tremendously.
Biodiversity—the variability among living things and ecological systems—is the world’s natural wealth. Our lives literally depend on it—without a myriad of organisms working in concert, we would have no oxygen to breathe, no clean water to drink, no fertile soil to grow our crops and no food to eat, indeed no functioning biosphere. We also value biodiversity for more than merely utilitarian reasons. The amazing complexity and beauty of nature, product of a vast span of evolutionary time, are recognised and celebrated in many societies. Experiencing and understanding wild nature fulfils deep aesthetic and intellectual human needs.
The world is rapidly changing as humans appropriate more and more of its resources—there are many more of us than ever before, and each of us is more demanding too. We are now overdrawing on the earth’s renewable supplies and eating heavily into natural capital. Already, we have cleared half the world’s terrestrial natural habitats. A third of what is left will go within a human generation, if current trends continue (). Human-induced climate change is set to have far-reaching impacts on global biodiversity. Invasive alien species are damaging and impoverishing ecosystems around the world. Because of these and other pressures, species are vanishing rapidly—at many times their natural extinction rate.
Governments around the world recognise that a sustainable future really does depend on biodiversity conservation. In 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, they included the achieving of environmental sustainability as one of eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015 (). In 2002, they adopted the 2010 biodiversity target at the Durban Summit on Sustainable Development, committing themselves to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. It is clear, however, that despite these commitments, too little is still being done at too slow a rate and that if we are to halt the inexorable decline of biodiversity we need to gear up our efforts tremendously.