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What is Biodiversity?

For many indigenous peoples and local communities, the western scientific concept of biodiversity may initially appear alien and many indigenous and local languages may not possess an equivalent term to the western concept of biodiversity. [1]

In fact, the term biodiversity describes the diversity of all life on this planet ranging from the genes that make up the smallest organism in the deep oceans to the diversity of plant and animal life and the ecosystems sustaining them. We are also part of this diversity and depend upon the maintenance of biodiversity for our survival and well- being. Indeed, as we will see, the "cultural diversity" represented by indigenous peoples and local communities around the world is increasingly seen as a central element of global biodiversity. In short, as one well known biologist has remarked, biodiversity "...is, in one sense, everything". [2] As such, the concept of biodiversity is all-encompassing, and expresses the ultimate interconnectedness of all life upon this planet.

The origins of the concept of biodiversity in the western world can be traced back to the 1970s and the 1980s, when western scientists progressively began to gather more and more detailed information about the alarming acceleration of tropical deforestation around the world. Tropical forests contain the richest diversity of life upon this planet and, along with coral reefs, are the most important storehouses of biodiversity in the world. In response to the dramatic pace of destruction of the world's tropical forests, western scientists began the process of trying to predict what this meant in terms of the loss of the diversity of life. These efforts were then extended to other ecosystems such as coral reefs, wetlands, and deserts. This led to a growing conviction that the accelerating loss of the diversity of life would have serious consequences for the future of humanity. Furthermore, once lost this diversity cannot be recovered.

In response to this growing sense of crisis, in September of 1986, a National Forum on BioDiversity was held in Washington, in which over 60 leading biologists, scientists, members of development agencies and others participated. It was during this meeting that the concept of "BioDiversity", or "biodiversity" as it is now more commonly known, was born. [3]

This was followed in 1987 by the creation of an Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to consider how the threats represented by the loss of global biodiversity might be addressed, and trends in the loss of biodiversity reversed. [4] This initiative culminated in the creation of the legally binding United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity which was opened for signature during the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro.



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Dimensions of Diversity

| Acknowledgements | About the Authors | Introduction | Dimensions of Diversity | Indigenous Peoples.. |
| From Policy to Implementation? | Executive Summary COP5 | Executive Summary COP6 |References |