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1. What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, refers to the number of species – animals, plants and microorganisms – found in a certain area, as well as the communities that they form and the habitats in which they live. The concept also includes the genetic variability of species, since no organism is absolutely identical to any other. Biological diversity can therefore be considered at three levels. The first is species diversity, the second is genetic diversity and the third is ecosystem diversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity gives a formal definition of biodiversity in its article 2: "biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems".

“Biodiversity is not only the sum of all ecosystems, species and genetic material. Rather, it represents the variability within and among them. It can be distinguished from the expression "biological resources", which refer to the tangible components of ecosystems. Biological resources are real entities (a particular species of bird, a wheat variety growing in a field, oak wood, etc.) while biological diversity is rather an attribute of life (the variety of bird species, the genetic variability of wheat around the world, forest types, etc.).”

2. How much biodiversity is there?
The total number of species is not known, and estimates of species number vary from 7 to 100 million, although only around 1.75 million species have been identified so far. A reasonable estimate of total species number is probably around 20 million species. The table below shows approximate numbers of species in major groups (UNEP, Global Biodiversity Assessment, 1995):

GroupNo. of described speciesEstimated total no. of species
Viruses4 000400 000
Bacteria4 0001 000 000
Fungi72 0001 500 000
Protozoa40 000200 000
Algae40 000400 000
Plants270 000320 000
Nematodes25 000400 000
Crustaceans40 000150 000
Arachnids75 000750 000
Insects950 0008 000 000
Mollusks70 000200 000
Vertebrates45 00050 000
Others115 000250 000
Totals1 750 00013 620 000

What is the importance of biodiversity?
Simply put, biodiversity is the sum of resources that sustain human life. Quoting a recent UNEP report 'Global Environment Outlook 3' (UNEP 2002):
"Living organisms contribute to a wide variety of environmental services, such as regulation of the gaseous composition of the atmosphere, protection of coastal zones, regulation of the hydrological cycle and climate, generation and conservation of fertile soils, dispersal and breakdown of wastes, pollination of many crops, and absorption of pollutants (UNEP, 1995). Many of these services are neither widely recognized nor properly valued in economic terms; however, the combined economic value of 17 ecosystem services has recently been estimated in the range of US$ 16-54 trillion per year.

Biodiversity is the source of genes that ensure the continued development of adapted crops and livestock to feed an increasing human population. Wild crop relatives are of great importance to national and global economies. For instance, wild wheat relatives continue to provide genes for disease and abiotic stress resistance of our cultivated crop, ensuring high yields. Biodiversity also represents a reservoir of potential drugs. Some 75 per cent of the world's population rely for health care on traditional medicines, which are divided directly from natural sources (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 2000).

4. What is the CBD?
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992, and entered into force in December 1993. As the first treaty to provide a legal framework for biodiversity conservation, the Convention established three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Contracting Parties are required to create and enforce national strategies and action plans to conserve, protect and enhance biological diversity. They are also required to undertake action to implement the thematic work programs on ecosystems and a range of cross-cutting issues which have been established to take forward the provisions of the Convention. As of December 2002 there were 187 Contracting Parties to the Convention.

5. What is a Clearing-House? ( term "clearing-house" was originally used mainly in the banking sector, where it referred to a financial establishment where checks and bills were exchanged among member banks so that only the net balances needed to be settled in cash. Today, its meaning has been extended to include any agency that brings together seekers and providers of goods, services or information, thus matching demand with supply.

6. What is the Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) of the Convention on Biological Diversity?
The CHM was established under Article 18, paragraph 3 (, of the Convention. The role of the CHM is broader than that of the BCH: it promotes and facilitates technical and scientific cooperation, including cooperation in the development and use of relevant technologies, training of personnel and exchange of experts, joint research programs and joint ventures, and participates in the work of the thematic areas under the Convention.
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