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Biological diversity treaty called peace policy for 21st century

Bratislavia, Slovakia/Nairobi, 7 May 1998 - Emphasizing the fundamental importance of biological diversity to human well-being and survival, Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), called here for stronger joint and cooperative efforts to reverse the destruction of the world's biological diversity.

"Our life support system is at stake, and we cannot afford for each of us to tackle the challenge in isolation," said Mr. Töpfer. "We have to join forces if we are to secure the basic human needs of adequate food, clean water, sufficient energy, safe shelter, and a healthier environment."

Attending the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Mr. Töpfer called the Convention a "peace policy" for reducing future wars and conflicts.

"Unless we maintain a rich natural environment and use our natural resources sustainably, political and social stresses are destined to accumulate," he said. "Competition over dwindling biological resources threatens to become a major source of national and international strife in the decades ahead."

"Society cannot prosper through economic growth alone," added Mr. Töpfer. "We need social stability and a healthy environment as well. To achieve this, we must move urgently to rationalize and link the biodiversity programmes and activities of all organizations and governments, pursue closer partnerships with the private sector, and raise more funding. We must also cooperate more closely with other international treaties, including those dealing with climate change, desertification, the international trade in endangered species, wetlands, and migratory species."

Some 1,500 participants from 180 countries are expected to attend the UNEP-sponsored meeting, which will promote global action on freshwater ecosystems, marine and coastal areas, forest biodiversity, and agricultural biodiversity. Participants are also discussing new cooperative programmes, effective national policies, methods for measuring biodiversity trends, equitable sharing of benefits and access to genetic resources, incentives for conservation and sustainable use, impact assessments of projects and policies, education and awareness-raising, and more. The two-week event started on 4 May.

According to UNEP's Global Biodiversity Assessment, produced with the participation of some 1,500 scientists, species extinction since the year 1600 has occurred at 50 to 100 times the average estimated natural rate, and is expected to rise to between 1,000 and 10,000 times the natural rate. At present, more than 31,000 plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.

The Convention on Biological Diversity was signed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit by over 150 countries. Its objectives 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." The Convention is thus the first global, comprehensive agreement to address all aspects of biodiversity: genetic resources, species, and ecosystems.

Like the other so-called Rio conventions (on climate change and desertification), the biodiversity treaty tackles a major global challenge by integrating environmental conservation with economic development. "Sustainable development" is only possible if the Earth's renewable resources are not consumed so intensively that they cannot replenish themselves. The Convention innovates by adopting a comprehensive approach in order to achieve this goal.

Note to journalists:

Official documents and other information can be found via the Internet at; the press kit will be posted at For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Michael Williams
on portable phone number (+41-79) 4091528,
phone/fax (+421-7) 5810019,
or e-mail In Nairobi:

Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Information and Public Affairs,
Tel: +254-2-623294, Fax: +254-2-623927,

Robert Bisset,
UNEP Media and Communications Officer
Tel: +254-2-623084, Fax: +254-2-623692,

UNEP News Release 1998/24

Thursday 07 May 1998
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