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Biodiversity matters: uniting for global genetic diversity conservation

Biodiversity encompasses the diversity of biological species and genetic variation. While we often talk about the variety of species, the genetic diversity of them is just as important. It is the foundation of ecological systems, essential for maintaining natural balance. It ensures clean air, water, fertile soil and pollination. Protecting biodiversity is essential not only for fighting climate change but also for mitigating the effects of natural disasters and human activities. Maintaining biodiversity requires human efforts, including the preservation of the genes of animal and plant species. As we are part of these ecosystems, it’s essential that we actively protect biodiversity for our own survival and the well-being of the planet.

International cooperation

“Be part of the Plan” is the theme of this year’s International Day of Biodiversity, a call to action for all stakeholders to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.

Europe has been leading collaborations in plant gene conservation, recognising the need for collective action to address the challenges stemming from biodiversity loss.

The European Union led the way in promoting biodiversity conservation through a number of policies and funding programs. For example, the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to put Europe’s biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030, making sure that ecosystems are resistant to climate change and other threats. It emphasises the importance of protecting the genetic diversity of species, which is essential for adaptation and resilience.

Another key framework supporting biodiversity in Europe is the Natura 2000 network, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, designated to protect Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It plays a vital role in safeguarding genetic resources.

In particular, the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) is a prime example of successful European cooperation which promotes the exchange of knowledge and resources among its 28 member countries. EUFORGEN’s activities include the development of conservation strategies, technical guidelines and training programs, all of which help member countries implement effective gene conservation practices.

On this day, Benoît Girard, Director General, Science and Technology Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Chairperson of FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is underlining the importance of conserving biodiversity and more specifically, genetic resources, for food and agriculture.

“Seeds, germplasm and other genetic materials feed into the rich agricultural diversity we see across the globe and are key to help us to adapt to a changing world,” he said.

However, despite many efforts, several challenges remain. One significant issue is the varying levels of commitment and resources of European countries. Nations such as Greece, Spain and Bulgaria, which have a significant proportion of Europe’s biodiversity, have limited financial resources dedicated to environmental protection when compared to those with more financial means according to the European Commission. These differences can limit the effectiveness of regional cooperation and international agreements.

The need for enhanced collaboration

To address these challenges, greater cooperation at both regional and international levels is needed. Strengthening the financial and technical support for biodiversity conservation in less-resourced countries can help bridge the gap. Additionally, fostering partnerships between government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector can gather broader support and resources for conservation efforts.

The EU’s Horizon Europe program, which includes significant funding for research and innovation in the areas of biodiversity and ecosystem services, presents an opportunity to strengthen international cooperation. Horizon Europe can contribute to more effective conservation strategies and the sustainable use of genetic resources by supporting cross-border research projects and the exchange of knowledge.

On the International Day for Biodiversity, we must recognise our collective responsibility to protect the genetic diversity of life on Earth.

“The world’s complex web of biological diversity sustains all life on earth. Yet it is unravelling at an alarming speed – and humanity is to blame,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Governments must lead. But […] we are all Part of the Plan – we all have a role to play. Indigenous Peoples, businesses, financial
institutions, local and regional authorities, civil society, women, young people and academia must work together to value, protect and restore biodiversity in a way that benefits everyone.”

Biodiversity conservation and especially plant gene conservation, requires joint effort and significant international cooperation. Building on existing frameworks, addressing differences and encouraging partnerships can ensure the preservation of genetic diversity, which is vital for the resilience and sustainability of our planet.

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