CBD | Deep Dive

Biodiversity matters

Isn’t it incredible that no two of us have the same genes? Not even all identical twins. Short legs, long legs, body build, eye colour, every human being is different. And when you consider that there are eight billion of us, that’s a whole heap of variety. 

On top of that, 50% of the cells in our bodies aren’t even ours! They belong to the 500 distinct types of bacteria that do vital jobs like supporting our immune systems and making chemicals to help us digest food. Without them, we couldn’t survive.

Life’s phenomenal variety

Our bodies are examples of “biodiversity,” and each one depends on a varied bacterial ecosystem to function. As a species, neither our biological diversity nor our reliance on an ecosystem makes us unique. There are likely more than nine million types of living creatures inhabiting our planet – plants, animals, fungi, and single-celled organisms. Some estimate the phenomenal variety of forms may even be as high as one trillion different species (mostly microorganisms)! 

Just like our bodies, Earth needs them all to do its job properly. To provide the clean water, oxygen, food, and medicines that so many living things rely on. Not forgetting the sheer joy that natural environments and their inhabitants give us. The problem is, we’re losing this fabulous variety and the unknown secrets it holds. That puts many species – humans included – and the planet itself, in a tight spot.

There’s another CBD?

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty formalized in 1992 to conserve this astonishing variety. It was signed by 196 countries or “Parties” who meet every two years at a Conference of Parties (COP) to assess progress. They reset targets every ten. Delayed by Covid, the next physical meeting of the CBD (COP15) takes place in December 2022. 

Member states, NGOs, Indigenous rights groups, businesspeople, scientists, and journalists coming together know that we’ve already lost 85% of wild mammals (by biomass). That one quarter of those who remain are threatened with extinction. That birds and plants are also in trouble, with 14% and 40% of species respectively, at risk. And that since 1970, our world’s wonderful, crazy biological mix has reduced in population by almost 70% a year. (In some regions, like Latin America, that figure is even higher.)

The deal with 30x30

At COP15, countries will once again set short-term targets and goals for the urgent action needed for nature by 2030. These targets address the more immediate threats like plastic pollution, pesticide use, non-native invasive species, the degradation of freshwater and marine habitats, and genetic diversity loss. They underpin one of the short-term goals of protecting at least 30% of earth’s land and sea by 2030. 

For this goal to be realistic, the value of biological diversity must be upheld by national governments. Habitats and species must be preserved so that creatures can interact and have enough space to live in. Integrating biodiversity into public policy is itself another goal.

A plan for the future

All these short-term targets and goals are needed to foster the beginnings of the recovery envisaged by 2050 in the Global Biodiversity Framework. This Framework, which is also to be agreed at COP15, will lay out the conservation agenda for the next 30 years. It will stress nature’s contributions to people and their wellbeing. Its longer-term goals will include maintaining and enhancing nature’s ecosystems, halting extinctions caused by human activities, and living in harmony with the natural world.

Say hi to NAT

On the Edge (OTE) will be at COP15, raising awareness of the vital role EDGE species and EDGE zones play in supporting biodiversity. We will also be presenting our ground-breaking conservation tool, the Nature Attitude Tracker (NAT). Being aware of people’s perceptions of nature is crucial if we are to come up with effective plans and strategies for conserving it.

NAT gives us the ability to know what people think about nature by looking at what’s published in the media, online and offline. It allows us to spot changes in attitudes and areas of the world that need to be more actively engaged in conservation. It also lets us see which species need more attention and – importantly – actions that work.

Although understanding the importance of these views was recognized and set as a target by 2020, it wasn’t achieved.

Measuring what matters

To underline the benefits of biodiversity, OTE will also be proposing that two indexes be included as indicators in the new Global Biodiversity Framework. The EDGE index tracks the conservation status of plants, amphibians, mammals, and birds that have few close relatives, are often genetically distinct and at risk of extinction. It can be used to gauge how well we are doing at averting their loss and conserving these irreplaceable species. 

The Phylogenetic Diversity (PD) index measures adaptations in species over time and across the Tree of Life – essentially biodiversity in action, and where it’s at risk.  By measuring our success in conserving evolutionary history (including that of EDGE species), the PD helps us monitor how well we are protecting biodiversity. Doing so means we keep all the values of biodiversity, including its intrinsic right to exist, for future generations.

Know your stuff

If you feel strongly about biodiversity and want to learn more about it, check out the following organisations:

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international organization working to conserve nature and its resources. Its Red List used as an indicator for biodiversity around the world. The website includes information on the geographical range and extinction risk of more than 100,000 plant, animal and fungi species. 

  • The Living Planet Index is a measure of the world's biological diversity based on population trends among vertebrates.

Natural History museums are great places for people, especially children, to see past and present examples of biodiversity. Admission is often free, and websites have accessible information about biodiversity and the natural world.