The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines biodiversity as the variability of living creatures genetically, individually and ecosystem wide (CBD 2006). With losses of 50-150 species daily, a level 10,000 times greater than the natural rate of species extinction from the fossil record, biodiversity loss is clearly a pressing global threat (UNDP 2007). Not only is the number of species shrinking, but genetic and ecosystem diversity are also declining, the other two components of biodiversity in general (UNDP 2007).

Humans have much to lose if biodiversity loss continues at its current rate. Food production, which is dependent on just 20 plant species, will be further at risk as crop yields become difficult to maintain due to soil erosion, loss of dependable water supplies, and a decline of pollinators (Ehrlich 1988). The loss of biodiversity could also lead to a loss of medicines and the emergence and spread of infectious diseases (Chivian 1997). It is possible that the study of Earth’s biodiversity may be the easiest method of predicting future dangers to human health from global environmental degradation.

Current rates of biodiversity loss have been estimated to be as high as 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than rates indicated in fossil records. The main drivers of biodiversity loss are deforestation, desertification, overexploitation, invasive species, pollution, and climate change (Millennium 2005). Overuse of natural resources can lead to ecosystem degradation, and ultimately to extinction of flora and fauna. This problem is particularly noted in fisheries, where 50% of commercial marine fisheries are fully exploited, and another 25% are over exploited (Millennium 2005). Climate change affects temperature, precipitation, and weather patterns, all of which can affect reproduction and migration timing, species distribution, population size, the length of the growing season, and the frequency of pest and disease outbreaks. As habitats change, more extinction will occur as species struggle to adapt (Millennium 2005).

Management and Future Considerations

As all of these drivers can be seen at the global level and the services that biodiversity provides are of international concern. There is need for an international consensus to combat further loss. An important feature of biodiversity loss that must be taken into consideration when addressing this problem is the differentiated responsibility that states have; species and ecosystem diversity are concentrated in less developed states located in the tropics, but the impetus for conservation comes most adamantly from developed nations. The developed states have both the interest and the wealth to protect diversity, thus there is the need for international cooperation to bring the two sets of actors together (Moran 1994).

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD 2006) serves as the main global legislation in confronting this issue. Signed in 1992, 168 signatories to the convention have committed to significantly reducing biodiversity loss by 2010 (CBD 2006). Incentives for conserving biodiversity, dissemination of information intended for public awareness, and addressing related threats such as climate change and invasive species are key policy prescriptions. The challenge for the future is now to integrate biodiversity protection with other international environmental efforts, such as climate change and pollution mitigation, in order to protect the species and ecosystems still intact.


United Nations Development Program. ‘Biodiversity in Crisis’. 2007. (accessed 11 December 2007).

Chivian, Eric. ‘Global Environmental Degradation and Biodiversity Loss: Implications for Human Health’.

Biodiversity and Human Health. Ed. Francesca Grifo and Joshua Rosenthal. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997. p. 8.

Convention on Biological Diversity. Secretariat of the Convention of Biological Diversity, United Nations Environment Programme. 2006. (accessed 10 December 2007).

Ehrlich, Paul. ‘The Loss of Biodiversity’, Biodiversity. Ed. E.O. Wilson. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1988. p. 25.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. ‘Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis’. World Resources Institute: Washington, DC, 2005. (accessed 09 December 2007).

Moran, Dominic. ‘Debt-swaps for Hot-spots: More Needed’. Biodiversity Letters. 01 February 1994: 63-66. (accessed 06 February 2007).

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