Convention on Biological Diversity

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Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. Biodiversity 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.


Diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, more than 200,000 marine species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists believe that there are actually about 1.4-1.6 million marine species, see Number of marine species. Biodiversity also includes genetic diversity (genetic variation that occurs among members of the same species), ecosystem diversity (variety of biological communities) and functional diversity (variety of biological processes, functions or characteristics). Biodiversity provides ecosystem goods and services that sustain our lives.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. The CBD was conceived as a practical tool for implementing the principles of Agenda 21. Biological diversity is defined as more than plants, animals and micro-organisms and their ecosystems. It also is about people and their need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment. Biodiversity underlies the goods and services provided by ecosystems that are crucial for human survival and well being. Ecosystem goods and services have significant economic value, even if some of these goods and most of the services are not traded in the market and thus are not priced to inform society to changes in their supply or in the condition of their ecosystems.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for "sustainable development" -- meeting human needs while ensuring a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity. This pact among the vast majority of the world's governments sets out commitments for maintaining the world's ecological underpinnings as we go about the business of economic development. The Convention establishes three main goals:

  1. the conservation of biological diversity,
  2. the sustainable use of its components, and
  3. the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

Links between biodiversity and climate change

More recently, the CBD focuses on links between biodiversity and climate change, outlined in the Report on the Interlinkages Between Biological Diversity and Climate Change[1].

Past changes in climate resulted in major shifts in species ranges and marked changes in biological communities, landscapes, and biomes. The current levels of human impact on biodiversity are unprecedented, and causing large-scale loss of biodiversity. For a given ecosystem, functionally diverse communities are more likely to adapt to climate change and climate variability than impoverished ones[1].

Extensive work has been completed at global and regional levels on impacts of climate change on marine biodiversity; a review is presented in: IPCC Special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate CH05: Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities (2019[2] . One of the main findings is: Ocean warming has contributed to observed changes in biogeography of organisms ranging from phytoplankton to marine mammals (high confidence), consistently changing community composition (high confidence), and in some cases, altering interactions between organisms (medium confidence).


  1. Bindoff, N.L., W.W.L. Cheung, J.G. Kairo, J. Arístegui, V.A. Guinder, R. Hallberg, N. Hilmi, N. Jiao, M.S. Karim, L. Levin, S. O’Donoghue, S.R. Purca Cuicapusa, B. Rinkevich, T. Suga, A. Tagliabue, and P. Williamson, 2019: Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)].

See also

Library and documentation of the CBD secretariat

The main author of this article is Magdalena Muir
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Magdalena Muir (2020): Convention on Biological Diversity. Available from [accessed on 14-06-2021]