Senior Assistant Administrator for Science and Technology, U.S. Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C.
It has become clear that a significant proportion of the diversity of life on Earth could well be lost in the next half century. It is also clear that this loss could have serious negative impacts on society. The number of species currently available for use could be reduced by the loss of both wild germplasm and gene pools, and potential new genetic resources could be lost before their utility is discovered. Essential ecological services such as regulation of water quality and quantity, regeneration of plants and animals, cycling of nutrients, and buffering climate extremes could be impaired or lost altogether.
Society should face this issue squarely and should make a concerted effort to minimize the projected loss of biological diversity. But how can this be done? More importantly, how can it be done in the developing nations of the world where there is competition between meeting the basic human needs of burgeoning populations and maintaining biological diversity?
Developing countries face severe challenges in dealing with biological diversity. It is difficult for them to focus on long-term needs when they are faced with pressing, immediate needs for food and fuelwood and some means for earning foreign exchange to buy essential products and pay existing, mounting debts. This is a particularly urgent problem for those developing nations located in the tropics where the level of biological diversity is the highest and the threats to its maintenance are the greatest. Possibly up to 50% of all species on Earth may be native to the 6 to 7% of the Earth’s land area that is covered by tropical moist forests