Why conserve biodiversity?

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Environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev estimates that the cost to the world of not preserving ecosystems and biodiversity could be between £1.2 and £2.8 trillion each year. 

Just because natural resources and the services they provide appear to be free, we should not take them for granted, Sukhdev explains in the interview.

Biodiversity is a fundamental part of the Earth's life support system. It supports many basic natural services for humans, such as fresh water, fertile soil and clean air. Biodiversity helps pollinate our flowers and crops, clean up our waste and put food on the table. Without it we would not be able to survive.

The term biodiversity should also remind us that no one organism lives in isolation. The many different ways that the millions of organisms on the Earth interact with each other contribute to the balance of the global ecosystem and the survival of the planet. Biodiversity plays a role in regulating natural processes such as the growth cycles of plants, the mating seasons of animals, and even weather systems.

Food and drink

Biodiversity provides food for humans. About 80% of our food supply comes from just 20 kinds of plant. Although many kinds of animal are used as food, again most consumption is focused on a few species.

There is vast untapped potential for increasing the range of food products suitable for human consumption.

Medicines

A significant proportion of drugs are derived, directly or indirectly, from biological sources. However, only a small proportion of the total diversity of plants has been thoroughly investigated for potential sources of new drugs.

Industrial materials

A wide range of industrial materials are derived directly from biological resources. These include building materials, fibres, dyes, resins, gums, adhesives, rubber and oil. There is enormous potential for further research into sustainably using materials from a wider diversity of organisms.

Ecological services

Biodiversity provides many services that we take for granted. It plays a part in regulating the chemistry of our atmosphere and water supply. It is directly involved in recycling nutrients and providing fertile soils. Experiments with controlled environments have shown that we cannot easily build ecosystems to support ourselves.

Leisure, cultural and aesthetic value

Many people derive value from biodiversity through leisure activities such as enjoying a walk in the countryside, birdwatching or natural history programmes on television.

Biodiversity has inspired musicians, painters, sculptors, writers and other artists. Many cultural groups view themselves as an integral part of the natural world and show respect for other living organisms.

Future options

By signing the International Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, the UK signalled a commitment to 'conserve and sustainably use biological diversity for the benefit of present and future generations'. By conserving biological diversity now, we give future generations the option to value and benefit from it too.

About Pavan Sukhdev

Pavan Sukhdev has long-standing interests and experience in environmental economics. From 2008-2010, while a senior banker at Deutsche Bank, he was seconded to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to lead the agency’s Green Economy Initiative, which includes The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (TEEB), the Green Economy Report and the Green Jobs report.