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Kew and the Convention on Biological Diversity

The 2018 International Day for Biological Diversity celebrates 25 years of Action for Biodiversity since the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into force in 1993. What part has Kew played?
21 May 2018
Blog team: 
China Williams

The Convention on Biological Diversity

At Kew, the three objectives of the CBD – the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits – have framed much of our work, and in turn, Kew has been crucial in supporting UK implementation. 

Image showing The Lubango Escarpment in SW Angola, an area notable for high levels of species endemism – over 100 plant species are known only from these mountains

The Lubango Escarpment in south-west Angola, an area notable for high levels of species endemism – over 100 plant species are known only from these mountains (Image: RBG Kew/ D. Goyder)

image showing Musa gracilis, wild banana found in Malaysia

Musa gracilis, wild banana found in Malaysia (Image: MARDI (the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute))

Image showing Wild yams are an important food for the Malagasy people and are harvested unsustainably. The 'Madagascar yam conservation for livelihoods' project led by RBG Kew involves communities in Madagascar and aims to conserve endemic yams

Wild yams are an important food for the Malagasy people and are harvested unsustainably. The 'Madagascar yam conservation for livelihoods' project led by RBG Kew involves communities in Madagascar and aims to conserve endemic yams, and enhance food and livelihoods (Image: KMCC/Mamy Tiana Rajaonah)

Conservation of biological diversity

Conservation of biological diversity is at the heart of Kew’s work, from our world leading science collections of over 8.5 million items, to our mission of documenting and understanding global plant and fungal diversity. This enables us to focus on the active collection of data on priority useful plants (crops and their wild relatives, plants vital for food security, livelihoods and human health), and gives us the tools to work with our international partners to develop projects that address their own national conservation priorities.

In Madagascar, the Itremo Massif project helped to designate areas of threatened biodiversity-rich grassland to support national conservation decisions, and in Angola Kew’s role in the Protected Areas Expansion Strategy helped to identify key areas and document the plants growing there. Kew’s involvement in the 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change' project focuses on collecting and conserving seeds from the wild relatives of key crops to allow their natural resilience to crop pests and climate change be bred in to our major food crops. At home the MSB UK Programme aims to collect samples of nationally important plants and trees, and make them available for use in species re-introduction and habitat restoration projects.

Grasses and savannas of Madagascar (Itremo Massif project)

Using knowledge of endemic grasses to understand the history of open canopy areas.

Adapting agriculture to climate change

Collecting and protecting the wild relatives of the world’s most important food crops to safeguard our future food security in a changing climate

Banking the UK’s seeds

The Programme comprises the UK Flora Project, The UK National Tree Seed Project and the UK Native Seed Hub. It works to maintain and enhance the UK repository for seeds and associated knowledge, to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of native plant material available for research, conservation and habitat restoration in the UK.

Sustainable use of the components of biological diversity

The CBD was the first international convention to recognise the interlinked relationship between people and their environment and the importance of encouraging the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity. Kew has worked on projects focused on agroforestry – encouraging the production of honey through the Forest Futures project in Bolivia and developing a model for sustainable agroindustry in Peru. In Madagascar Kew scientists are working with communities to conserve edible wild yams threatened by habitat loss and over-exploitation. Through cultivation, communities can enhance household income and nutrition. And in Zambia we are working with women in the edible wild orchid trade to both support their livelihoods and ensure the trade is sustainable.

Forest Futures, Bolivia

Using livelihoods and Sustainable Forest Management to reduce deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon.

Madagascar yam conservation for livelihoods

Conserving Madagascar’s edible wild yams through cultivation to enhance livelihoods and food security.

Cattle in the Amazon: A hidden opportunity?

Kew scientists describe an experiment in the Amazon which they hope will revolutionise cattle farming.

Fair and equitable sharing of benefits

Central to the CBD is the creation of an incentive mechanism for countries to conserve and sustainably use their biodiversity. Therefore, the third objective of the Convention is that there should be ‘fair and equitable sharing of benefits’ in return for the utilisation (commercial or otherwise) of genetic resources. Kew is currently working with more than 400 partners in over 100 countries, and in each case our relationship is governed by a carefully crafted agreement that ensures scientific benefits are shared from the collection, study and conservation of biological diversity. Looking across the range of Kew’s work this could be joint publications such as the recent Coffee Atlas of Ethiopia, training opportunities such as a place on our MSc course, and training and capacity building to support the Colombia Bio Programme, a country home to one in ten of the world’s known species. 

Where we work

Kew’s scientific work spans more than 100 countries and involves over 400 collaborating institutions worldwide.

MSc in Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation

This exciting Masters course teaches vital plant and fungal identification skills in the context of evolutionary biology and conservation theory and practice.

Kew – Colombia Bio Programme

The Colombia Bio programme, established in the country’s National Development Plan (2014–2018), aims to lead the transformation of the Colombian economy into one based on green growth. 

What’s next?

Next up world leaders will be meeting in Egypt in November 2018 to set out a framework for the post 2020 global biodiversity agenda. With biodiversity loss happening at an ever-increasing rate it is vital that we find the best evidence-based solutions to address these challenges – and Kew’s work here is crucial. We need to work together with our international partners and stakeholders. As David Attenborough said at the end of the Blue Planet II series: “The future of all life now depends on us.”

- China -

Find out more about the Convention on Biological Diversity

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Meet the author

Find out more about China's work here at Kew

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For the first time in Kew’s history, there is a formal strategy to set out a framework for managing, developing and providing greater access to the Science Collections over the next decade.

Policy work

Find out more about how Kew works on policy, particularly international conservation policies.