Preserving biodiversity vital to reverse tide of climate change, UN stresses on International Day

Bioversity International/B. Sthapit A saleswoman sells Asian grapefruits on a floating market.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The food people eat around the world is becoming “alarmingly homogenous” according to UN data, even though access to a wide variety of nutritious food has never been greater. That warning comes as the world marks the International Day for Biological Diversity on Wednesday, which this year highlights the impact of environmental neglect on food security and public health.

Biodiversity in plant and animal life in the world – in terms of species, habitats and genetics – leads to ecosystems that are healthier, more productive and better able to adapt to challenges like climate change, says the UN, and human activity is threatening the fate of species around the world like never before, according to an alarming new UN report earlier this month.

The theme “Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health” aims to leverage knowledge and spread awareness of how much all life depends on biodiversity.

In his message to mark the day, celebrated every 22 May, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, notes that “the quality of the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe all depend on keeping the natural world in good health”, also underlining that biodiversity was essential to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and to address climate change.

Healthy ecosystems can “provide 37 per cent of the mitigation needed to limit global temperature rise”, he said, warning that the “current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are projected to undermine progress towards 80 per cent of the targets for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We cannot allow this to happen.”

“The world’s current food system is increasingly broken.  Billions of people lack access to proper nutrition”, said the UN chief. “Approximately one third of what is produced is lost or wasted.  The ways in which we grow, process, transport, consume and waste food are leading causes of biodiversity loss, while also contributing to climate change.”

Addressing the issue of deforestation, Mr. Guterres said it had caused the “loss of more than 290 million hectares of forests that help to absorb harmful carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere”.

Mr. Guterres urged all governments, businesses and civil society to “take urgent action to protect and sustainably manage the fragile and vital web of life on our one and only planet”.

Highlighting the galvanizing effect of biodiversity for human health and well-being, the Secretary-General stressed that “solutions exist”.

“By halting environmentally harmful practices, diversifying our food systems and promoting more sustainable production and consumption patterns, we can improve global health, increase food security and strengthen resilience to climate change”, he concluded.

How can you help?

By choosing to eat only seasonal and local produce, we can ensure that the demand for the right foods is high in the right season.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 90 per cent of traditional crops have disappeared from farmers’ fields, while half of the animals bred by humans have been lost. All of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are being fished at or above their sustainable limits.

FAO also underlines that agricultural biodiversity is fundamental for coping with a changing climate, and helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and securing the future of diverse sources of healthy and nutritious food.

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