The Earth’s biodiversity is widely understood to be under threat. By some measures the world has lost 52 percent of its biodiversity since 1970, with the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe on average about half the size it was 40 years ago.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment—the largest audit ever conducted of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems—found that ecosystems have declined more rapidly and extensively over the past 50 years than at any other comparable time in human history.

The world’s rainforest regions, which hold most of the globe’s biodiversity, have seen widespread deforestation and degradation, currently affecting 8.5 percent of the world’s forests, with 30 percent of the surface already cleared

Deforestation resulting from unrestricted palm oil development has threatened the survival of the orangutan, with experts warning of extinction in the next 25 years. Other species, such as the Pygmy elephant, Sumatran tiger and Javan rhino, are also greatly endangered.

On the seas, unrestricted fishing is a significant driver of marine species extinction. Around 80 percent of global fish stocks are fully to over-exploited and 90 percent of large predatory fish stocks (including sharks, swordfish and bluefin tuna) have disappeared. Experts estimate that by 2048, all wild fish stocks will be in a state of collapse.

Biodiversity underpins drug discovery and the availability of medicines. By some estimates at least 50 percent of pharmaceutical compounds on the US market are derived from plants, animals and micro-organisms, while about 80 percent of the world’s population depends on medicines from nature for primary healthcare.

One hotly debated issue related to biodiversity is the effect of genetically modified organisms (GMO), or genetic engineering, on biodiversity.

The concept that biodiversity underpins the provision of the planet’s ecosystems and ecosystems services is enshrined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The international treaty’s 2050 vision is that “biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”