What is biodiversity?

Why does it matter to us?

What biodiversity is

Biodiversity describes the variety of life on Earth, including the 8 million plant and animal species on the planet, the ecosystems that house them, and the genetic diversity among them. 

Biodiversity is a complex, interdependent web, in which each member plays an important role, drawing and contributing in ways that may not even be visible to the eye. The abundant foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the weather that makes our planet habitable all come from nature.

Why biodiversity matters

Biodiversity is the foundation that supports all life on land and below water. It affects every aspect of human health, providing clean air and water, nutritious foods, scientific understanding and medicine sources, natural disease resistance, and climate change mitigation. Changing or removing one element of this web affects the entire life system and can produce negative consequences. Without nature, life on earth would not be possible.

The impact of human activity 

Human activities have significantly changed three quarters of land surface and two thirds of ocean area.  Between 2010 and 2015 alone, 32 million hectares of forest disappeared; and in the last 150 years, live coral reef cover has been reduced by half. Glacial ice is melting at astonishing rates while ocean acidification grows, threatening the ocean’s productivity. Wildlife species are disappearing tens to hundreds of times faster now than in the past 10 million years; and within the next 10 years, one out of every four known species may have been wiped off the planet. 

We are on the verge of a mass extinction; and if we continue on this path, biodiversity loss will have severe implications for humanity, including the  collapse of food and health systems.

Biodiversity loss and COVID-19

The emergence of COVID-19 has made it clear that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life. By upsetting the delicate balance of nature–encroaching on wildlife, reducing the genetic diversity within animal populations, causing climate change and extreme weather events–we have created ideal conditions for the spread of viruses between animal and human populations.  Nature is sending us a message.  

It’s time for Nature

Reversing biodiversity loss is the only way to restore and sustain a healthy planet.  This will only be possible when we understand the web of life in which we live and appreciate that it functions as a whole system.  It is time to reimagine our relationship with nature and put nature at the heart of our decision-making.

The Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes that biological diversity is critical to a healthy planet.  To this end, UNEP and its partners are helping countries them develop their own National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plans. UNEP also supports important knowledge platforms on ecosystems and biodiversity such as Global Forest Watch, the Global Peatlands Initiative and the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. Learn more about biodiversity here.