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Biological Diversity
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Home > Biological diversity - Updated: 17-04-2003 8:54 am
Biological diversity — or biodiversity — is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms.  
The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

Recognition of the rapidly changing face of the biosphere has triggered many initiatives for the conservation of biological diversity. In 1872, the US Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park. Today, the United Nations list of nationalparks and protected areas contains as many as 10,000 sites larger than 1,000 hectares. And at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, 157 countries and the European Community signed a Convention on Biological Diversity. This convention provides an internationally agreed-upon legal framework for concerted action to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.

Photo:© Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Earth from above/UNESCO

UNESCO’s interest in biological diversity dates back to the early days of the Organization, under its first Director General, biologist Julian Huxley. Among the early activities was joining with the French Government and the Swiss League for Nature in the setting-up in 1948 of IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

UNESCO’s continuing concern is rooted in two complementary international instruments for the conservation of biological diversity.

  • The Convention for the Protection of the World’s Natural and Cultural Heritage
    a binding legal instrument which provides a permanent legal, financial and administrative framework for international co-operation in contributing to the protection of the world’s natural and cultural heritage. The focus is on unique sites of outstanding interest and universal value..

  • The World Network of Biosphere Reserves within the MAB Programme. At best, biosphere reserves are sites of excellence to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development on a bioregional scale, with associated research, monitoring, training and education and the involvement of local people as the driving force for conservation.

    In addition to these two concepts and tools for promoting the in situ conservation of biological diversity, other activities include studies on marine living resources within the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), work related to the educational and ethical dimensions of biodiversity, and issues at the interface of biological diversity and cultural diversity. In these and other fields, collaborative activities are carried out in partnership with the Convention on Biological Diversity and a range of international conventions, agreements and organizations.

    Biodiversity Observations on the Internet (BIO)
    Fledgling global platform of biodiversity observations on the Internet, launched at an international workshop held in Bonn in December 2000.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Biosphere Reserves: Reconciling Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development
    The World Network of Biosphere Reserves (currently, 408 sites in 94 countries) embodies a practical approach to one of the most important questions the world faces today: How can we reconcile conservation of biodiversity and biological resources with their sustainable use?
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    BRIM (Biosphere Reserve Integrated Monitoring)
    MABFlora and MABFauna databases are among the products of BRIM, which provides a framework for abiotic, biodiversity, socio-economic and integrated monitoring in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Conservation International (CI)
    Washington D.C. based non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of natural ecosystems and the species they contain. For several years, UNESCO and CI have been co-operating in promoting the biosphere reserve concept.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
    The aims of the CBD are ‘the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources’.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Collaborative research programme set up in 1991 to promote and catalyse knowledge about biodiversity, including its origins, composition, ecosystem functioning, maintenance and conservation.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems and contiguous land areas forms part of the research agenda of work on ecohydrology within the International Hydrological Programme (IHP).
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Environment and Development - World Conference on Sustainable Development
    Johannesburg, 2002
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Global Initiative on Biodiversity Education and Public Awareness
    At its sixth meeting (The Hague, Netherlands April 2002), the Conference of Parties (COP) of the CBD adopted a programme of work based on recommendations and proposals of three sessions of a consultative working group of experts organized by the CBD, UNESCO and IUCN.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (IGCP Project 410)
    One of several recent and ongoing IGCP (International Geological Correlation Programme) projects concerned with biological diversity issues over geological time.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Marine Biodiversity and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission(IOC)
    IOC’s work on marine living resources includes collaborative studies on coral reefs, harmful marine algae and coastal biota. Also the promotion of broader approaches to fisheries management.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    People and Plants
    WWF/UNESCO-MAB initiative, in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, to promote ethnobotany and the increasing involvement of local communities in conservation and sustainable use of plant resources.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
    The Convention on Wetlands, which was signed in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971, provides one of the principal international instruments for the conservation of wetlands.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    Ramsar-MAB Cooperation
    Joint web site reflecting cooperative programme and shared-contiguous sites between the Ramsar Convention and UNESCO-MAB.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC)
    Based in Cambridge (United Kingdom), UNEP-WCMC provides information for policy and action on the living world.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    World Conservation Union (IUCN)
    The World Conservation Union brings together over 980 members from 140 countries, including States, government agencies and various kinds of non-governmental agencies, in a unique world partnership for conserving nature.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    World Heritage Convention and Biodiversity Conservation
    The World Heritage List includes such world-renowned sites as Bialowieza, Galapagos Islands, Great Barrier Reef, Lake Baikal, Serengeti-Ngorongoro and Yellowstone among its 144 natural and 23 mixed sites.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
    Since its creation in 1961, WWF has become one of the world’s largest independent organizations dedicated to the conservation of nature, working in around 100 countries and supported by some five million people worldwide.
    >> More info   >> Go to website

    biodiversity50.jpgBiodiversity: Scientific Issues and Research Proposals (1991), by Otto Solbrig - by
    Overview of key scientific issues and questions related to biological diversity and its functional significance, published by UNESCO as MAB Digest 9. More

    ‘Biodiversity in Questions’ Wallcharts (!998) - by
    Set of 12 wallcharts, prepared by UNESCO in English and French, grouped in three sections: Definition of biodiversity; The importance of biodiversity; Managing biodiversity. More

    Mainstreaming Biological Diversity: The Role of Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) (2002) - by
    Coloured 8-page booklet outlining the importance of CEPA in motivating and mobilizing individual and collective action, as recognized in Article 13 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). More

    incertitudes50.jpg‘OGM. Le champ des incertitudes: 5 fiches pour comprendre, anticiper, debattre’(2000) - by
    Set of pedagogic materials on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), available in French and Spanish. More

    Puzzle50.jpgSolving the Puzzle: The Ecosystem Approach and Biosphere Reserves (2000) - by UNESCO-MAB Secretariat
    Coloured 32-page booklet, illustrating the twelve principles of the ecosystem approach (adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity as the primary framework for action under the Convention) with examples from the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. More

    Understanding Biodiversity - by
    One of 26 modules in a set of teaching materials produced as part of UNESCO’s work on science and technology education More

    WEHAB: Framework for Action on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management (2002) - by
    One of five thematic papers on the WEHAB initiative proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as a contribution to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). More

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