The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by almost every Member State, but with ecosystems being destroyed at rates never before seen, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and individuals must play their part in ending destructive behaviours, according to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and other harmful practices, "exacerbated by poverty and other social and economic factors, continue to destroy habitats and species at an unprecedented rate," he said in an address delivered by the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, at the opening of the five-day UN International Conference on Biological Diversity, or "Biodiversity 2005."
Scientific literature has described fewer than 1.5 million living species out of an estimated 30 million, UNESCO said in a background paper. The result of the loss of their ecosystems was exemplified by the decline of coral reefs which increased the vulnerability of coastal areas to such natural disasters as last month's Indian Ocean tsunami, it said.
"Biological diversity is one of the pillars of life. It stabilizes the Earth's climate and renews soil fertility. It provides millions of people with livelihoods, helps to ensure food security, and is a rich source of both traditional medicines and modern pharmaceuticals. It is essential to our efforts to relieve suffering, raise standards of living and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," Mr. Annan said.
Under-appreciated as a resource, biodiversity was also under-appreciated as an issue meriting high-level attention, he told the 1,000 participants at the meeting.
"I therefore call on those Governments that have not yet done so to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Biosafety Protocol. These instruments and the processes they have set in motion are crucial for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources," he said.
"The Protocol gives us an international regulatory framework to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology, thus making it possible to derive maximum benefits from biotechnology while minimizing the potential risks to the environment and human health."
Biodiversity 2005 had to come to grips with the gaps in overall knowledge – the rates of loss, extinction trends, causes of decline – and the inability to monitor its status and trends, said Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of the Montreal-based CBD.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) said in its 2004 Global Species Assessment that in the best-known taxonomic groups, 12 per cent of all bird species, 23 per cent of all mammal species, 32 per cent of all amphibians and 34 per cent of all gymnosperms were being threatened with extinction, he added.
One ray of hope was that the international community had recognized the magnitude of the looming biodiversity crisis and had set a global target to reduce significantly the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national levels by 2010, Mr. Zedan said.