The Convention on Biological Diversity

Sustaining Life on Earth

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How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being


5 - What Are the Next Steps?

Economic development is essential to meeting human needs and to eliminating the poverty that affects so many people around the world. The sustainable use of nature is essential for the long-term success of development strategies. A major challenge for the 21st century will be making the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity a compelling basis for development policies, business decisions, and consumer desires.

Promoting the long term

The Convention has already accomplished a great deal on the road to sustainable development by transforming the international community's approach to biodiversity. This progress has been driven by the Convention's inherent strengths of near universal membership, a comprehensive and science-driven mandate, international financial support for national projects, world-class scientific and technological advice, and the political involvement of governments. It has brought together, for the first time, people with very different interests. It offers hope for the future by forging a new deal between governments, economic interests, environmentalists, indigenous peoples and local communities, and the concerned citizen.

However, many challenges still lie ahead. After a surge of interest in the wake of the Rio Summit, many observers are disappointed by the slow progress towards sustainable development during the 1990s. Attention to environmental problems was distracted by a series of economic crises, budget deficits, and local and regional conflicts. Despite the promise of Rio, economic growth without adequate environmental safeguards is still the rule rather than the exception.

Some of the major challenges to implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity and promoting sustainable development are:

  • Meeting the increasing demand for biological resources caused by population growth and increased consumption, while considering the long-term consequences of our actions
  • Increasing our capacity to document and understand biodiversity, its value, and threats to it.
  • Building adequate expertise and experience in biodiversity planning.
  • Improving policies, legislation, guidelines, and fiscal measures for regulating the use of biodiversity.
  • Adopting incentives to promote more sustainable forms of biodiversity use.
  • Promoting trade rules and practices that foster sustainable use of biodiversity.
  • Strengthening coordination within governments, and between governments and stakeholders.
  • Securing adequate financial resources for conservation and sustainable use, from both national and international sources.
  • Making better use of technology.
  • Building political support for the changes necessary to ensure biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.
  • Improving education and public awareness about the value of biodiversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity and its underlying concepts can be difficult to communicate to politicians and to the general public. Nearly a decade after the Convention first acknowledged the lack of information and knowledge regarding biological diversity, it remains an issue that few people understand. There is little public discussion of how to make sustainable use of biodiversity part of economic development. The greatest crunch in sustainable development decisions is the short- versus the long-term time frame. Sadly, it often still pays to exploit the environment now by harvesting as much as possible as fast as possible because economic rules do little to protect long-term interests.

Truly sustainable development requires countries to redefine their policies on land use, food, water, energy, employment, development, conservation, economics, and trade. Biodiversity protection and sustainable use requires the participation of ministries responsible for such areas as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, tourism, trade and finance.

The challenge facing governments, businesses, and citizens is to forge transition strategies leading to long-term sustainable development. It means negotiating trade-offs even as people are clamoring for more land and businesses are pressing for concessions to expand their harvests. The longer we wait, the fewer options we will have.

Information, education, and training

The transition to sustainable development requires a shift in public attitudes as to what is an acceptable use of nature. This can only happen if people have the right information, skills, and organizations for understanding and dealing with biodiversity issues. Governments and the business community need to invest in staff and training, and they need to support organizations, including scientific bodies, that can deal with and advise on biodiversity issues.

We also need a long-term process of public education to bring about changes in behaviour and lifestyles, and to prepare societies for the changes needed for sustainability. Better biodiversity education would meet one of the goals set out in the Convention.

What can I do about biodiversity?

While governments should play a leadership role, other sectors of society need to be actively involved. After all, it is the choices and actions of billions of individuals that will determine whether or not biodiversity is conserved and used sustainably.

In an era when economics is a dominant force in world affairs, it is more important than ever to have business willingly involved in environmental protection and the sustainable use of nature. Some companies have revenues far greater than those of entire countries, and their influence is immense. Fortunately, a growing number of companies have decided to apply the principles of sustainable development to their operations. For example, a number of forestry companies-often under intense pressure from environmental boycotts-have moved from clear-cutting to less destructive forms of timber harvesting. More and more companies have also found ways to make a profit while reducing their environmental impacts. They view sustainable development as ensuring long-term profitability and increased goodwill from their business partners, employees, and consumers. Local communities play a key role since they are the true "managers" of the ecosystems in which they live and, thus, have a major impact on them. Many projects have been successfully developed in recent years involving the participation of local communities in the sustainable management of biodiversity, often with the valuable assistance of NGOs and intergovernmental organizations.

Finally, the ultimate decision-maker for biodiversity is the individual citizen. The small choices that individuals make add up to a large impact because it is personal consumption that drives development, which in turn uses and pollutes nature. By carefully choosing the products they buy and the government policies that they support, the general public can begin to steer the world towards sustainable development. Governments, companies, and others have a responsibility to lead and inform the public, but finally it is individual choices, made billions of times a day, that count the most.