Why is biodiversity important?
The vital importance of biodiversity to mankind has been described in many publications. The recent UNEP report 'Global Environment Outlook 3' (UNEP 2002) gives the following overview:
"Living organisms contribute to a wide variety of environmental services, such as regulation of the gaseous composition of the atmosphere, protection of coastal zones, regulation of the hydrological cycle and climate, generation and conservation of fertile soils, dispersal and breakdown of wastes, pollination of many crops, and absorpion of pollutants (UNEP 1995). Many of these services are neither widely recognized nor properly valued in economic terms; however, the combined economic value of 17 ecosystem services has recently been estimated in the range of US$ 16-54 trillion per year (Costanza and others 1997).
Human health and well-being are directly dependant on biodiversity. For example, 10 of the world's top-selling drugs in 1997 were derived from natural sources. The global market value of pharmaceuticals derived from genetic resources is estimated at US$ 75 000-150 000 million annually. Some 75 per cent of the world's population rely for health care on traditional medecines, which are devided directly from natural sources (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 2000).
Biodiversity also provides genetic resources for food and agriculture, and therefore constitutes the biological basis for world food security and support for human livelyhoods. A number of wild crop relatives are of great importance to national and global economies. For example. Ethiopian varieties have provided protection from vital pathogens to California's barley crop, worth US$ 160 million per year. Genetic resistance to disease abtained from wild wheat varieties in Turkey has been valued at US$ 50 million per year (UNEP 1995)."
The great importance of biodiversity in the context of sustainable development has recently been stressed in an interesting publication by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This booklet, with the title 'Biodiversity and sustainable development', was published on the occasion of the Johannesburg Summit (August 2002) and contains contributions from more than 20 distinguished authors.
More information on the importance of biodiversity can be found on the WRI web page "The Values of Biodiversity" as well as in the report "The value of Biodiversity.Insights from Ecology, Ethics and Economics", prepared for the Malahide conference 'Biodiversity and the EU - Sustaining Life, Sustaining Livelihoods'held in May 2004.