The biodiversity challenge

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Committing political will and a small fraction of the world's financial resources to protecting biodiversity would bring indispensable long-term benefits, argues Stephen Hopper, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London.

The following contribution is authored by Stephen Hopper, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

"In this, the United Nations' International Year of Biological Diversity, and with the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan, it is clear that the environmental challenges we face are severe and increasing, and that the need for action has never been more urgent.

Our lives, and those of all other creatures on this planet, are both part of and dependent on biodiversity. Simply put, biodiversity is the web of life, including all organisms found in every habitat, from the fish of the deep oceans to the birds of the tropical rainforests and everything in between.

Plant and fungal diversity lies at the very foundation of biodiversity, and on them all other life depends. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, thereby providing the air we breathe and helping to regulate the climate. They provide food, medicine, fuel, shelter, clean water and fertile soils. Plant diversity sustains us now, and in the future it will enable us to adapt, innovate and ultimately survive.

And yet, despite our dependence on this incredible natural heritage for our very lives and well-being – and those of future generations– we are squandering it at an unprecedented rate. Our generation faces biodiversity loss on a massive scale. Species extinctions are occurring at a rate far greater than the natural cycle, owing largely to habitat destruction caused by human activities such as deforestation and land clearance. Evidence suggests that climate change will accelerate this loss.

But there is hope amid the gloom. In fact, there is no technical reason why a species should go extinct, and great achievements in protecting biodiversity are being made.

For example, scientists and conservationists around the world are collaborating on projects such as the Millennium Seed Bank partnership, founded and coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This partnership of more than 100 institutions in over 50 countries has already conserved 10% of the world's wild plant species, and is working towards conserving 25%, focusing on those that are rare, endangered and useful.

What is needed now is the political will and financial resources to underpin these efforts. The major meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity taking place in Nagoya, Japan, from 18-29 October, is an opportunity in this regard, and we at Kew are hopeful for positive outcomes in terms of international agreements in the key areas of biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and access, and benefit-sharing."

To read the op-ed in full, please click here.

(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)

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