AFRICA: World Biodiversity Day 2023, the continent’s challenges

02 06 2023 | 15:35Boris Ngounou / AFRIC21

The United Nations (UN) is placing the 2023 edition of World Biodiversity Day under the theme "From agreement to action: rebuilding biodiversity". It is an opportunity to reflect on biodiversity at a time when the loss of species and natural habitats is one of the greatest environmental threats in Africa and the rest of the world. More than 6,400 animals and 3,100 plants are currently threatened with extinction on the continent.

With 20% of the world’s land, the African continent is home to a quarter of the world’s mammal species and a fifth of its bird species. At least one sixth of the world’s plant species are endemic to Africa. The continent also has 369 wetlands of international importance.

These figures, published in 2019 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are testimony to Africa’s rich biodiversity. This natural heritage is, however, being undermined by the continued loss of species and habitats.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than 6 400 animals and 3 100 plants are threatened with extinction. Surveys of African bird populations show a decline over the past 25 years. A similar pattern to that of fish and plant populations, although data remains limited. However, IUCN estimates that populations of vertebrate species in Africa have declined by 39% since 1970.

It is against this African backdrop that the 2023 edition of World Biodiversity Day is being held, under the theme “From agreement to action: rebuilding biodiversity”. By choosing this theme, the United Nations (UN) wants to push world leaders and actors to take action to restore biodiversity.

The challenge in Africa

The challenge of preserving and restoring natural capital is paramount for Africa, where biodiversity constitutes an arsenal of genetic tools that are beneficial not only to the people living in these ecosystems, but also to the world as a whole. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), natural forests provide 21% of rural household income in 11 African countries and wild harvested food (including fisheries), contributing to the health of millions of Africans.

Ecologically, the IPCC reports that the 240 million hectares of forests that make up the Congo Basin (considered the world’s second green lung), absorb 4% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year, offsetting more than the annual emissions of the entire African continent.

Read also-Biodiversity in Africa: 10 figures, 10 challenges

In order to preserve these economic, social and climatic benefits of the natural heritage, the United Nations General Assembly established the celebration of World Biodiversity Day in 2000. The date of 22 May was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty signed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.