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Hope for Global Plant Diversity

11 weeks 3 days ago

World plant conservation leaders met this summer to evaluate progress, plan for the next 10 years

By Christopher Dunn, Elizabeth Newman Wilds Executive Director

I recently had the distinct honor and pleasure of participating in an important plant conservation meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. A bit of background:

In 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It went into effect in December 1993, after being signed by 168 countries. It has now been signed by more than 190 countries, the U.S. being the notable exception. Regardless, the CBD is the world’s most important and binding multi-lateral treaty, period, and is administered by the United Nations.

The three main goals of the CBD are to (1) develop strategies that ensure the conservation of world’s biological diversity (or biodiversity); (2) provide mechanisms for the sustainable use of its biodiversity; and (3) ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from natural and genetic resources.

Biological diversity refers to the full suite of the world’s living biological riches: the plants, animals, fungi, and microbes that live on land and in water. They are essential to our wellbeing. In 2002, the CBD “parties” (signatory countries) agreed to develop a conservation strategy specifically for the world’s plants. This is unusual in that there is no similar or parallel CBD conservation strategy for animals or other life forms. However, it is crucial, because all life on earth depends on plants for food and for the oxygen that they produce.

The CBD’s conservation strategy known as This Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) has been adopted by many national governments, governmental agencies, zoos, and botanic gardens. The GSPC has 16 targets, which are reviewed and revised every ten years. Targets range from developing a global searchable database of all known plants in the world, to ensuring that all rare plants are conserved in nature and in other living collections (e.g., at botanic gardens), to ensuring that botanical diversity is preserved so that local and indigenous livelihoods are maintained and supported.

The current GSPC targets expire in 2020, a mere year and a bit from now. The Cape Town summit focused on (1) determining what progress has been made under the 2011-2020 plan, (2) if or how the targets for the next 10 years should be revised, and (3) developing metrics by which we can measure progress.

My role was to provide a global status report on Target 13: “Indigenous and local knowledge innovations and practices associated with plant resources maintained or increased, as appropriate, to support customary use, sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health care.”

This was not an easy task! However, I am delighted that Cornell Botanic Gardens is seen as global leader in this area of “biocultural conservation” and that there actually has been considerable progress to date. Many countries, in fact, have reported on significant advances, including greater protections for natural areas that are significant to indigenous peoples, greater emphasis on ethnobotany at universities and botanic gardens, and language revitalization programs in many parts of the world, including endangered dialects on coastal islands of Scotland (my native land)!

For those who have seen our new 2018-2023 strategic plan, you know that our mantra is creating a world of diversity, beauty, and hope. Given the reports provided at the CBD summit in Cape Town, there is good reason for hope. Thank you all for creating it with us.