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The United States has a moral imperative to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity now

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By Makario Sarsozo

· 6 min read

The loss of biological diversity, or biodiversity, refers to the decline in the variety and variability of life forms on Earth, encompassing species extinction, habitat degradation, and ecosystem disruption. This loss undermines ecosystem resilience, reduces natural resources, and threatens human well-being. But what can we do about it? It must be out of our hands, or the result of anthropogenic climate change, which certain political parties try to deny at every turn. Despite the enormity of the problem, there are concrete actions we can take to mitigate biodiversity loss. One of the most significant actions is the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The CBD plays a crucial role in global efforts to halt biodiversity loss by setting international conservation goals, promoting sustainable use of biological resources, and ensuring fair sharing of genetic resource benefits. Significantly, in 2022, all CBD member states adopted a set of global targets for 2030 called the Global Biodiversity Framework to put humanity on a path to live more harmoniously with nature. These targets range from quantitative area-based conservation efforts to the utilization of nature based solutions in preventing the spread of invasive species and promoting access to benefit sharing of genetic information. However, a major hurdle remains. While almost every nation in the world has ratified this essential multilateral environmental agreement (MEA), two lone holdouts have not. 

The CBD provides a global framework, as the international legal instrument ratified by 196 nations, for the following areas: conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of genetic resources (CBD Secretariat, 2022). Article 1 of the Convention clearly outlines the objectives of conserving and protecting global biodiversity. “The objectives of this Convention, to be pursued in accordance with its relevant provisions, are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” (U.N., 1992). Article 2 of the Convention goes on to clearly define biological diversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part” (U.N., 1992).

As the rate of species extinction increased with alarming speed in the last several decades, due to anthropogenic activities such as climate change and increased land use, the global response enacted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) resulted in the formation of an Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in 1988 (CBD Secretariat, 2022). The Ad Hoc Working Group unveiled the text at the Nairobi Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992. The Convention was opened for signature in 1993 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit. This meeting took place in Brazil where the Convention under which the Paris Agreement sits was also adopted, including the three MEAs known as the Rio Conventions. 

The CBD was initially signed by 168 nations and entered into force on December 29, 1993 (CBD Secretariat, 2022). According to the Secretariat, the CBD was inspired by a global commitment to sustainable development. “It represents a dramatic step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources” (CBD Secretariat, 2022). This impressive achievement did not just happen overnight but was the result of many steps on the way to a global agreement, including several negotiating sessions and ad hoc working group meetings by legal and technical experts which then culminated in the conference to adopt the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD Secretariat, 2022).

The responsibility to implement the Convention rests with the countries that have ratified the treaty, also known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), which reviews progress and identifies new priorities. This is done through an ongoing global forum of meetings where member states, nongovernmental organizations and academics can share ideas and compare strategies (CBD Secretariat, 2022). Within the three main stated goals of the Convention, the agreement also recognized for the first time that these areas are common concerns of all of mankind (CBD Secretariat, 2022). 

Additional areas also covered by the Convention include: 

  • Measures and incentives 

  • Access to genetic resources

  • Access to technology

  • Technical and scientific cooperation

  • Impact assessment

  • Education and public awareness

  • Provision of financial resources

  • Reporting on treaty commitments (CBD Secretariat, 2022).

While the degree of international cooperation on conserving biodiversity through the CBD is truly breathtaking, what is also notable is the one country besides the Holy See that has yet to ratify the Convention - the United States. Since the CBD was entered into force in the early 1990’s, Republican lawmakers in the United States have continued to block ratification. Some lawmakers claim the CBD would infringe on U.S. sovereignty and put commercial interests at risk, which have been talking points for the Republican Party for decades (Jones, 2021). In fact, ratifying the CBD would signify a recommitment of the U.S. to global environmental leadership while benefiting domestic industry groups in the process. Even with the Biden administration prioritizing climate change and conservation efforts, reversing course on many Trump-era policies, ratification of the CBD is still challenging due to Republican obstructionism. Under the U.S. Constitution, a two-thirds vote in the Senate is the only requirement left needed to ratify the CBD (Jones, 2021).

With America’s continued absence from the Convention, participating only as an observer or non-party member, global efforts to avert more extinctions are unfortunately likely to fail (Jones, 2021). In other words, countless species around the world will experience extirpation, or continue to go extinct entirely. One cause for optimism may be that the rest of the global community, which includes almost all nations on the planet, is committed to protecting biodiversity and conserving our precious natural resources. In 2024, the Working Group of the Parties, also known as the WGP, is meeting in Geneva to review progress on the current work program, including access to information, ratification of the GMO amendment, promotion of the Convention, and to consider the impact of the war in Ukraine on the Convention's implementation. For biodiversity’s sake, we should all urge the United States to finally ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, and lead on this issue that the rest of the world has clearly deemed of utmost importance.  

For more information on how the war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on biodiversity, please visit: IFAW Press Release 

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.


CBD Secretariat. (2022). Convention on Biological diversity. United Nations Environment Programme. Retrieved from

Jones, B. (2021). Why the US won’t join the single most important treaty to protect nature. Vox. Retrieved from

U.N. (1992). Convention on Biological diversity. United Nations. Retrieved from

U.N. (n.d.). Convention on Biological Diversity, key international instrument for sustainable development. United Nations. Retrieved from

Wahal, A. (2022). On International Treaties, the United States Refuses to Play Ball. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from


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About the author

Makario Sarsozo is the Content Manager for the Building Decarbonization Coalition. He is a senior storyteller and science communicator with experience writing and producing science and climate content for various platforms, including National Geographic, Science Channel and NASA. He is an Executive Committee member of Sierra Club DC, a NASA DEVELOP Mentor, and a passionate environmental justice advocate. 

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