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International Day for Biological Diversity
22 May

Biodiversity, Sustaining Life on Earth

Water & Biodiversity

1. Water is life and underpins human well-being, including food security, drinking water and sanitation, and most economic activities, as well underpinning ecosystem health and therefore biodiversity.

2. We live in an increasingly water insecure world where demands for water often outstrip supply, water quality fails to meet minimum requirements and the extremes of drought and flood are increasingly seen.

3. Water security is high on the political, public and business agendas; the World Economic Forum 2013 Global Risks report ranked water supply crises second only to major systemic financial failure, and ahead of food shortage crises, chronic fiscal imbalances and extreme volatility in energy and agricultural prices.

4. Ecosystems regulate the availability of water, and its quality; ecosystem degradation increases water insecurity; ecosystem conservation and restoration therefore help us achieve water security; biodiversity underpins these benefits and is therefore one of the most visible and important contributions of biodiversity to human well-being and sustainable development.

5. Ecosystems are natural water infrastructure that can serve the same purpose as built or physical infrastructure, such as dams and water treatment plants; natural and built water infrastructure can be managed together to achieve sustainable outcomes, increasing efficiency, reducing costs and delivering significant co-benefits. These are win-win outcomes between environment and development.

6. The use of natural infrastructure to manage water has a long history, spanning millennia, a strong evidence base, and is becoming increasingly widespread but yet to become mainstream to deliver its full potential.

7. Ecosystem components that exert major influences on water include forests, grasslands, wetlands and soils; working together these can deliver water security benefits at local, regional and global scales.

8. Without ecosystems, the water cycle, and dependent carbon and nutrient cycles, would be significantly altered, mostly detrimentally. Yet policies and decisions do not sufficiently take into account the interconnections and interdependencies, nor utilise these as solutions.

9. Water related benefits generally dominate the values that ecosystems provide, not just for wetlands but for most ecosystem types such as forests, grasslands and soils.

10. The impacts of climate change occur primarily through changes in the water cycle and this influence on ecosystems. Ecosystem based approaches are therefore a primary response for adapting to climate change and this is largely about managing water.

11. The water and carbon cycles are inter-dependent. Water is required to sustain carbon capture and storage by ecosystems and the plants and other biodiversity involved in that process in turn help regulate water; forests, for example, depend on water and also help regulate it. Climate change adaptation and mitigation are inter-dependent through water.

12. Examples of significant opportunities to use ecosystems to manage water include: improving the health of soils and land cover in farming landscapes to simultaneously achieve water security for food security and reduce off-farm impacts, including reducing water use, pollution, erosion and landslides; integrating natural infrastructure approaches into urban water management to achieve sustainable and secure cities; wetlands, such as floodplains, coastal marshes and estuaries, to increase resilience to natural disasters; managed landscapes, such as forests, to sustain drinking water supplies; reducing the risks from, and severity of, floods and drought.

13. Conserving or restoring ecosystems to manage water also delivers significant co-benefits. For example: wetlands can help regulate water but can also support significant fisheries; restoring soils can help achieve more productive agriculture and sustainable food security; forests provide timber and non-timber resources and habitat for pollinators and wildlife; improved landscapes provide significant recreational and cultural values. These benefits should be added to water-related benefits when considering returns on investments in water related infrastructure.

Biodiversity, What Is It?

Biological diversity — or biodiversity — is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from three to 100 million.

Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species — for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species.

Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes. In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and soil around them.

It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans. Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives.

The Value of Biodiversity

Protecting biodiversity is in our self-interest. Biological resources are the pillars upon which we build civilizations. Nature's products support such diverse industries as agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, horticulture, construction and waste treatment. The loss of biodiversity threatens our food supplies, opportunities for recreation and tourism, and sources of wood, medicines and energy. It also interferes with essential ecological functions.

Facts & Figures

  • 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biodiversity for their survival and wellbeing.
  • The average abundance of species is declining — 40% loss between 1970 and 2000.
  • Unsustainable consumption continues as demand for resources worldwide exceeds the biological capacity of the Earth by about 20%.

Our need for pieces of nature we once ignored is often important and unpredictable. Time after time we have rushed back to nature's cupboard for cures to illnesses or for infusions of tough genes from wild plants to save our crops from pest outbreaks. What's more, the vast array of interactions among the various components of biodiversity makes the planet habitable for all species, including humans. Our personal health, and the health of our economy and human society, depends on the continuous supply of various ecological services that would be extremely costly or impossible to replace. These natural services are so varied as to be almost infinite. For example, it would be impractical to replace, to any large extent, services such as pest control performed by various creatures feeding on one another, or pollination performed by insects and birds going about their everyday business.

Protecting Biodiversity

The current decline in biodiversity is largely the result of human activity and represents a serious threat to human development. Despite mounting efforts over the past 20 years, the loss of the world's biological diversity, mainly from habitat destruction, over-harvesting, pollution and the inappropriate introduction of foreign plants and animals, has continued. Biological resources constitute a capital asset with great potential for yielding sustainable benefits.

Urgent and decisive action is needed to conserve and maintain genes, species and ecosystems, with a view to the sustainable management and use of biological resources.

>> More information in the guide about the Convention

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