Global Biodiversity

Biodiversity provides services that are essential for human survival. It is under threat. Action is needed at local, regional and global level to preserve biodiversity.

The main causes of global biodiversity loss are habitat loss, overuse of natural resources, climate change, environmental pollution and introduced alien species. The poor state of biodiversity is visible at three levels: ecosystems, species and genes.


A total of 1,525 different ecoregions throughout the world are described: terrestrial regions such as the taiga of Eastern Siberia or the Patagonian steppe, freshwater regions such as Lake Baikal, and coastal and marine regions such as the Great Barrier Reef. Each ecoregion is home to a wide variety of ecosystems and habitats.

Ecosystems enable the existence of the creatures that inhabit them. They also provide indispensable services for humans – so-called ecosystem services – and thus form the basis for human economic activity and well-being. Estimates suggest that ecosystem services provide benefits of USD 125–140 trillion per year, or more than 1.5 times global GDP (OECD, Biodiversity: Finance and the Economic and Business Case for Action, 2019).

These benefits are under threat. The global report of the World Biodiversity Council IPBES states that there has been a rapid decline in the majority of ecosystem services since 1970.


Currently, about 1.74 million species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms are known to exist, although estimates suggest that the actual number could be many times higher.

Studies of fossils show that a species exists for between 1 and 10 million years after it is formed, before naturally dying out. The natural annual rate of species extinction is 0.1 per million species. According to the World Biodiversity Council IPBES Global Assessment Report, the current extinction rate is already 10-100 times higher than the average of the past 10 million years and is accelerating continuously.

Extinction is the conclusion of a decline in a species' population that becomes apparent much earlier. The Living Planet Index, which summarises trends in populations of vertebrates, shows that since 1970 there has been a rapid decline in species: 40 per cent in terrestrial species, 84 per cent in freshwater species, and 35 per cent in marine species.

The Red Lists also illustrate the poor state of biodiversity: of 115,000 species considered, 27% must be classified as endangered worldwide (IUCN categories Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable).

Genetic diversity

Information on genetic diversity is based almost exclusively on our knowledge of cultivars and animal breeding. Sixteen per cent of 8,200 livestock breeds must be classified as endangered (Global Biodiversity Outlook 4). In the case of cultivated plants, it is feared that up to 75% of genetic diversity has been lost since the beginning of the 20th century.

International responsibility

Switzerland and its activities have an impact not only on biodiversity within its borders but also on global biodiversity, whether through shared responsibility for climate change, raw materials use or the consumption of globally traded goods and services.

Preserving biodiversity is therefore a challenge that requires local, regional and global action. The most comprehensive instrument to achieve this is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was adopted in 1992 at the World Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, 196 countries – among them Switzerland – have become signatory states. At the 10th Conference of the Parties in Nagoya in October 2010, the Parties agreed on a Strategic Plan for 2011–2020, involving 20 goals. One of these is to place 17% of the world's land area under protection. The majority of the goals will not have been met by the end of 2020. Another important outcome was the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (Access and Benefit Sharing, ABS).

There are other agreement that cover specific species or specific natural environments, such as the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals CMS, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora CITES, and the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (see International agreements).

A new global framework for biodiversity is to be adopted in 2021 to replace the Strategic Plan, which has now expired.

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Last modification 30.04.2021

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