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Message from Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the occasion of The International Day for Biological Diversity 29 December 1999

Nairobi, 27 December 1999 - "Conservation of biological diversity constitutes one of today's greatest challenges. It is now widely realized that the genes, species, ecosystems and traditional knowledge and wisdom are being lost at an accelerated pace. This will increasingly limit our options for adapting to local and global change. UNEP's Global Biodiversity Assessment estimates that about 13 to 14 million species may exist on our planet. Of these, less than 2 million species have so far been scientifically described.

"If modern biotechnology is to contribute to human well-being in the 21st century, we must take action now to create credible and effective safeguards for the environment. The reasons for conserving our biodiversity are compelling. First, biodiversity has to be conserved as a matter of principle and that all forms of life warrant respect regardless of their economic worth to people. Second, biodiversity has profound implications for economic development. Biological sources are renewable. They provide people with the means of survival - food, fodder, firewood, construction materials and medicinal plants. Third, highly diversified natural eco-systems provide valuable ecological services - maintenance of hydrological cycles, regulating climate, contributing to the process of soil formation and maturation, storing and cycling of essential nutrients and absorbing and breaking down pollutants.

"The progress of our modern, industrial world still depends on the biological world. The increase in agricultural yields in the 1960s commonly referred to as the "green revolution" depended to a large degree on biodiversity. They relied specifically on the availability of diverse strains of grains that were capable of responding positively to heavier applications of fertilizer.

"And this reliance is slated to grow further.

"Loss of biodiversity in one country destabilizes the entire global ecosystems. The narrowing of the genetic pool of crops, increases the vulnerability of the global food supply system to changes in climatic conditions or pests and disease. Loss of biodiversity diminishes the ability of ecosystems to respond to stresses from, for example, climate change and ozone depletion. From a human development perspective, the conservation of biodiversity is especially critical in areas such as pharmaceutical and biotechnological development in providing us with new sources of food, drugs and industrial products.

"Each of these activities is at risk due to the continued erosion of the resource on which they are based, which is biodiversity. The Global Biodiversity Assessment warns, "unless actions are taken to protect biodiversity, we will lose forever the opportunity of reaping its full potential benefit to humankind".

"The conservation of biodiversity at the most fundamental level is the ethical recognition that other species have rights and do not merely derive value from economic exploitation by the human species.

"Biodiversity conservation is a product of the cultural contribution of communities that have respected other species and have evolved the knowledge of diverse species and their interactions to allow utilization in harmony with the objectives of conservation.

"We can no longer deny the rights of other species and cultures, because this denial is a threat to biodiversity. We must realize that it is intellectual and physical labour of the indigenous communities that has nurtured biodiversity and allowed it to flourish. Without this input, biodiversity would have disappeared long ago. Without it, biodiversity cannot be saved for the future.'

"The conservation of cultures that have conserved biodiversity is the most effective means to protect the richness and variety of life. Biodiversity conservation action demands a biodiversity ethic that respects the rights of other species and gives them space to flourish and multiply. Biodiversity conservation cannot be ensured by legal systems and technologies based on trampling the rights of other species/cultures. It will not be achieved by an unrestrained urge to own, control, manipulate and exploit life forms. Actions to protect life's diversity can only come from the spirit of sharing and compassion from a larger vision and values.

"In the long run, we must be concerned about maintaining the capability of the biological world to adapt, through adjustment and evolution, to changes in the physical environment. As a society we bear the ethical obligation to protect the habitability of the planet, and to act as responsible stewards of its biological riches for the present and future welfare of the human species. To do that requires an appreciation of the value of biodiversity - both what it provides for the natural world and the ways that we can use it - and a commitment to preserve it so that our children and their children will continue to realize the benefits of a biologically rich Earth".

For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
Spokesman/Director of Information,
Communications and Public information,
UNEP, P.O. Box 30552,
Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel.: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692,
UNEP News Release 1999/148

Monday 27 Dec 1999
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