Biological Diversity – Our Only Hope for the Future

Virunga mountain gorilla, one of the endangered species available in the Virunga national park. ©Photo credit: National Geographic

Author: Ms. Madeleine Nyiratuza

Every year, on 22nd May, the world observes the International Day for Biological Diversity – not a day marked on many calendars, but an important one for our planet and life moving forward.

Each species on earth, including humans, depends on the services provided by other species to survive. Maintaining this interrelationship is essential for sustainable development. We need healthy ecosystems to get food and we need quality food to have good health. Biological diversity or, simply, biodiversity is the source of all agricultural seeds, food, beverages and most of our medicinal resources and pharmaceutical products. It also provides services such as soil formation and protection, protection of water resources, nutrient storage and recycling, climate stability, pollution breakdown and absorption, recovery from unpredictable events, recreation, tourism and education. It is therefore important for us to protect these services that we take for granted.

International day for Biological Diversity is an occasion for us to celebrate our achievements in biodiversity conservation but also to rethink the way we address the increasing biodiversity loss worldwide; and the way we mobilize Decision-Makers, Private Sector, Civil Society Organizations, Communities and our colleagues to take action for a positive change.

The theme for this year; “Our biodiversity, our food, our health”; reminds us that our food systems, nutrition and health depend on biological diversity and healthy ecosystems.  As stressed by Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator,” our well-being fundamentally depends on nature.”

In simple words biological diversity is life. It is part of us as human beings, it is our air, our food and our water. The puzzle is: how do we make sure that we do not lose it, and that our children and grandchildren are able to inherit its benefits?

International policy commitments to simultaneously address biodiversity loss, food insecurity and health issues include the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. The objectives of reducing biodiversity loss and promoting their sustainable use are included in SDGs 14 and 15. Biodiversity loss negatively affects other SDGs including those related to good health and well-being, climate change mitigation and adaptation, ecosystems restoration, clean water, zero hunger, no poverty, sustainable cities and communities, clean energy, and sustainable production.

A few weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published a report with alarming findings on the global decline of biodiversity. The report indicates that nature is deteriorating at a more rapid rate than ever, with nearly 1 million animal and plant species threatened with risk of becoming extinct within decades.  Also, food insecurity remains one of our major and growing world problems. It is estimated that feeding the growing world population will require a 70 to 100 percent increase in food production by 2050. Current efforts to meet this food demand include processes that act against biodiversity and sustainability. These include, among others, deforestation that depletes plant and animal species; industrial development that increases global warming; water pollution that destroys freshwater and marine animals and plants; and industrial-farming techniques that use chemicals that kill soil organisms that contribute to soil fertility, and insects and birds that support pollination.

Rwanda has shown commendable political will and taken tangible actions to address biodiversity loss, food insecurity and health issues in an integrated manner.  This political will can be seen clearly in Vision 2050 which sets a path for Rwanda to become a high income, green and climate resilient economy; the National Strategy for Transformation; the Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy; the Wildlife Policy and National Biodiversity Policy. These policies emphasize that Rwanda’s viability will depend on the conservation of its biological resources and their contribution to livelihoods, food sovereignty, health, the environment, cultural diversity and the economy. 

Protected areas in Rwanda offer a wide range of benefits and opportunities for local and national economic development, improved livelihoods and provision of environmental goods and services. For example, Rwanda’s tourism is largely dependent on maintaining biodiversity. The Akagera National Park (home to the big 5) and the Virunga Mountains (home to the mountain gorillas) offer visitors to the country rare opportunities to see and experience the wonders of nature. Today, tourism is the country’s top income earner of foreign exchange pulling in $438 million in 2017. In 2015, Rwanda created a fourth national park (Gishwati-Mukura) that both aims to increase the protection of the biological diversity of the country and promote tourism.

Despite the country conservation efforts, its biological diversity remains under pressure.  The main threats include natural habitat degradation, climate change, pollution, mining, poaching and invasive alien species. There are also still gaps in integrating biodiversity considerations into national development policies and programs, and in biodiversity research and monitoring. Therefore, we see an opportunity in making greater investments in ensuring that the value of biodiversity gets reflected in broader policies, in incentive structures and in pricing benefits associated with biodiversity use; and in creating biodiversity information systems.  

UNDP Rwanda is committed to continue supporting the Government of Rwanda to address issues related to biodiversity loss, food security and human well-being. Our main areas of focus include environment and natural resources management, disaster risk reduction and management, climate information and services, climate change adaptation, sustainable agriculture, restoration of fragile ecosystems, biodiversity financing, livelihoods improvement, job creation, innovative and green finance, access and benefits sharing of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, and environmental mainstreaming. 

We are confident that with Rwanda’s clear commitment, matched by its strong culture of accountability and extensive partnerships with different actors, including development agencies, private sector companies, and civil society organizations; the country will meet its goal of preserving its rich biodiversity and preventing the extinction of threatened species.

Ms. Madeleine Nyiratuza, Head of Sustainable Growth unit at UNDP