Biodiversity is the term used to describe the wide variety of life on earth.
Biodiversity includes the differences between plants, animals, humans, and all of the places in which they live. It covers something as small as the diversity of genes within an individual (“genetic diversity”) to the vast differences between the ecosystems of the planet (“ecosystem diversity”) and all ranges of diversity in between those two extremes. For example, in Manitoba, biodiversity encompasses the differences between the snakes at Narcisse and the polar bears of Churchill, the Turtle Mountains and Tundra, and the smallest wildflower to towering sunflowers.
WHAT DOES BIODIVERSITY GIVE US?
There are many benefits to biodiversity. Among other things, we receive food, fuel and medicines; we gain the materials we need for shelter; the ecosystem around us is cleansed; our climate is moderated; the great variety of animal and plant life that we enjoy and benefit from exists.
WHY DOES BIODIVERSITY MATTER?
Biodiversity is the basis of life on earth:
Biodiversity is the result of the continuous evolution and adaptation of life on earth. The unending interaction of all aspects of life and the climate in which they exist has resulted in all of the things that we as humans depend on for our survival, and our way of life. For example, biodiversity has helped produce the foods, and medicines we need, as well as the places in which we enjoy spending our time.
Many species on the planet are unknown:
At this point, many species of plant and animal life on the planet are unknown, or have been studied very little. As humans, we are currently making use of only a very small percentage of the earth’s natural life forms. Therefore, we cannot fully know the value that may exist for us in the untapped resources of the natural world. There may be great benefits available to us that we are not presently aware of.
Why preserve biodiversity:
There are different reasons that have been put forward for the preservation of the biodiversity of life on the planet. One is that it is in our own self-interest to do so. Not only does the natural environment provide us with food and medicines, but there is an intangible value to being out in nature. People with interests as diverse as art, hunting, canoeing and hiking, to name a few, feel a strong connection to the natural world and derive great psychological and emotional benefit from being out in it.
The essence of the “self-interest” argument is that at the very least, our quality of life will be less if we do not have the full variety of plants and animals on earth available for our benefit. The logical end point of this argument is that we as humans cannot survive without biodiversity.
The other argument for preserving biodiversity is simply that it exists, and as such, it has a value that is worth holding onto. This has been called the “intrinsic value” argument. 2 While it is impossible to put a dollar value on a concept like this, it is worth considering what life might be like for future generations if they did not have the variety of species around them that we are accustomed to. The question becomes what would they be missing, both in terms of aesthetic beauty, and resources to meet their needs.
Biodiversity is global, and there has been global legislation enacted regarding it. In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro. This conference has been widely known as the “Earth Summit”. The summit was intended to bring environmental protection together with the world’s economic development. The Earth Summit was also the largest gathering of world leaders in history.
There were five international agreements that came out the Rio gathering:
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development;
The Framework Convention on Climate Change;
The Convention on Biodiversity.
The Convention on Biodiversity has been ratified by more than 190 countries, including Canada. Its goals are to conserve biodiversity; to use the components of biodiversity sustainably; and to share the share the economic and other benefits that arise from the use of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way. The Convention on Biodiversity has structures set up to help bring its goals into being. For example, there is Conference of the Parties, which meets every two years to achieve agreement on issues which will help reach the goals of the Convention. There are also scientific and technical bodies working to support the Convention, as well as a secretariat, (located in Montreal) and working groups and a network designed to promote the sharing of scientific and technical information. The Convention on Biodiversity also has its own website with information on the Convention itself, and the events that are ongoing around it.
In addition to the above, there is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. This research arose as it became apparent in the 1990’s that there was a need for more scientific assessment than was being provided under the existing mechanisms of the Convention on Biodiversity. Scientists also wanted to have an international ecosystem assessment. Working meetings occurred from 2001 to 2005, with the results of the Assessment being released in March, 2005.
When the Millennium Assessment findings were released, they revealed that human activity has strained the earth’s ecosystems to the point that their ability to support future generations is no longer guaranteed. The Assessment also showed that the effects of human activity on many ecosystems can be reversed over the next 50 years, but only if changes are made to policy and practice are made now.
CANADIAN LEGISLATION & ACTION
The Convention on Biodiversity was singed at the Earth Summit in June of 1992. In December of that same year, Canada became the first industrialized country to ratify it. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments joined together to implement the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. Its purpose is to ensure that we as a country meet our obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity. There are four areas that are worked on jointly:
Invasive alien species;
Biodiversity status and trends;
Biodiversity science and information;
The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy is implanted from Environment Canada’s Biodiversity Convention Office. The Office coordinates action with other government departments and facilitates policy development. In 1996, Environment Canada set up the Canadian Biodiversity Information network. The Network is tasked with delivering information on the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, and being Canada’s connection to the network designed to share scientific and technical information that is mentioned above.
Canada is also part of the 2010 Biodiversity Target. This agreement was reached in March of 2002, and under it, Canada and other nations who signed the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed that by 2010 they would achieve ‘ a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level’. This goal was set as ‘a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth.
Part of Canada’s strategy in dealing with biodiversity is to be transparent and to have public participation in the process. As such, Canada is one of only two countries in the world to have included non-governmental organizations as part of the delegations sent to meetings on the Convention on Biodiversity.
In Manitoba, The Endangered Species Act covers species that are under threat. They are monitored by the Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch.
The Conservation Agreements Act has been passed by the Province of Manitoba to allow for voluntary protection of natural areas on private land. A Conservation Agreement is an agreement between landowners and conservation authorities to protect plants, animals and the ecosystems which hold them, while still allowing the owner to use the land and to develop it. Once the agreement is entered into, it is filed on the Certificate of Title to the land and runs with the land.
Manitoba also has a Conservation Agreements Board, which facilitates discussion around conservation agreements and their implications, helps in dispute resolution, and completes the functions the Board must undertake by law.
Manitoba also keeps records of plants and animals at risk at the Biological Conservation Data system of the Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch. The information held there helps in conservation, planning for development, research and education.
Manitoba has also been a part of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) since 1978, and has been involved in the Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife's (RENEW) strategy since 1988.
INTERNATIONAL BIODIVERSITY DAY
Every May 22 is The International Day for Biological Diversity. The Day is intended to raise awareness of biodiversity, and so there is a different theme to the Day every year. This year, the theme is Biodiversity and Agriculture, and the intent is to let people know how using sustainable agricultural practices can help to feed our planet, preserve biodiversity, maintain the livelihoods of those who practice agriculture, and enhance our well being in this century and beyond. To learn more about the Day, please see the Convention for Biological Diversity website.
Celebrations of the Day are occurring throughout the world. More information on these celebrations can be found on the Celebrations page on the Convention for Biological Diversity website . You can also learn more about this year’s theme of sustainable agriculture, and find resources to help you plan events
RESOURCES ON BIODIVERSITY
There are many resources available to help you learn about biodiversity or to plan events. You may find the following websites helpful: