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Biodiversity underpins our lives, but is rapidly eroding We all depend on biodiversity—yet we are losing it fast. We also know surprisingly little about it. This report looks at what the best-known group of organisms, birds, can tell us about global biodiversity, why it is being lost and how we should conserve it. Birds provide us with a particularly good window on these issues, thanks (among other things) to their great public appeal, world-wide distribution, extraordinary migrations and economic importance. Epiphytic orchid, Ecuador © MIKE DILGER Forest products © BIRDLIFE P. 5: Yangtze flooding, China © DI YUN/CHINA FEATURES Cape Petrel © TONY PALLISER Arctic Tern © JOUNI RUUSKANEN P. 4:

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Biodiversity is fundamental to human well-being Biodiversity—the variability among living things and ecological systems—is the world’s natural wealth. Our lives depend on it, both in obvious ways and in ways that we are only just starting to understand. Governments around the world are now coming to recognise that a sustainable future really does depend on biodiversity conservation (see box 1). It is clear that biodiversity provides us with many vital goods and services, and maintains the life-sustaining systems of the biosphere. However, there is still more to it than this. The amazing complexity and beauty of nature, product of a vast span of evolutionary time, are recognised and celebrated in many societies. Experiencing and understanding wild nature fulfils deep aesthetic and intellectual human needs. Conserving species and ecosystems can be seen as a moral duty, both because of their intrinsic right to exist, and because they are part of our natural and cultural heritage— at least as precious and important to us as great works of art and architecture.

We are losing biodiversity fast The need for action has never been so pressing. The world is changing fast as humans appropriate more and more of its resources—there are many more of us than ever before, and each of us is more demanding too. We are now overdrawing on the earth’s renewable supplies and eating heavily into natural capital.

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Already, we have cleared half the world’s natural habitats. A third of what is left will go within a human generation, if current trends continue (box 2). Human-induced climate change is set to cause farreaching impacts on global biodiversity. Spurred on by climate change, alien invasive species are damaging and impoverishing ecosystems around the world. Because of these and other

Biodiversity must be conserved to achieve sustainable development

At the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, the world’s political leaders adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These ambitious goals, to be achieved by the year 2015, deal with ensuring environmental sustainability, eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and growing a global partnership for development. The eight MDGs, with their associated 48 targets, are universally accepted as a framework for measuring development progress. In the few years since the Millennium Summit it has become ever clearer that biodiversity, and the ecosystem services it underpins, are fundamental for achieving these goals. As well as the obvious link to environmental sustainability (recognised already in the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD: see p. 66), biodiversity conservation directly affects issues such as health, water, sanitation and many aspects of livelihoods1. At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the MDGs were reaffirmed and the UN Secretary-General proposed water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity (WEHAB) as an organisational framework for moving forward. In addition, the nations of the world agreed to pursue more effective implementation of the three objectives (conservation, sustainable use, and benefit sharing) of the CBD, and specifically to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss of biodiversity. BirdLife International’s own strategic objectives, also running up to the year 2015, are designed to contribute significantly to achieving the MDGs, as well as maintaining the many wider values of biodiversity recognised by the CBD. Thus BirdLife aims to:  conserve the diversity and distribution of wild bird SPECIES world-wide as an integral part of nature  identify, conserve and promote a global network of internationally important SITES for birds and biodiversity  maintain, manage and restore the diverse HABITATS that maintain vital ecological services  empower, mobilise and expand a world-wide constituency of PEOPLE caring for birds and their natural environment. BirdLife’s strategy for 2004–2015, and examples of the BirdLife Partnership’s work around the world to achieve biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, are set out in two companion publications to this one: A strategy for birds and people and Working together for birds and people. SOURCES 1. IISD (2003) Sustainable Developments 81: 1–6 (http://www.iisd.ca/linkages/sd/sdund/).

pressures, species are vanishing rapidly—at many times their natural extinction rate.

Birds can help us understand the problems and find the solutions There is little dispute that global biodiversity is declining, but accurate measures are very hard to come by. This also makes it hard to plan the best responses to the problem, and to see whether conservation efforts are having any positive effect. This report shows how birds—the best-known major group of organisms—can help us understand the problems and piece together the solutions. Birds are found almost everywhere on Earth, from the oceans to the mountaintops, from tropical forests to the polar ice-caps (see p. 7, box 3). Their extraordinary migrations knit the world together (box 3). Their fascinating diversity and behaviour have great public appeal. Birdwatching connects people with the natural world around them, and provides a window


State of the world’s birds 2004