The term was defined in The Convention on Biological Diversity as the “variability among living organisms from all sources, including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are a part.” Thus biological diversity includes diversity within and between species, and diversity of ecosystems. This includes natural and cultivated species, varieties, and ecosystems.
It is argued that biodiversity should be protected, because neither the potential benefits of protection nor the consequences of the loss of biodiversity have been fully identified. The first formal recognition of the need for international cooperation to protect biodiversity came in 1992 with The Convention on Biological Diversity and (in the same year) Agenda 21, which called for the creation of an international protocol on biosafety and risk assessment. This evolved into the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 2000.
Biodiversity is also linked to intellectual property rights (IPR) and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreements through the concept of traditional knowledge. This is the often unregistered and undervalued intellectual property that relates to the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous or local communities. Traditional knowledge of medicines and the uses of plants both play a very valuable role in the “discovery” of new medicines. However, the registering of patents on traditional knowledge by the pharmaceutical industry is criticized as biopiracy. [See Biopiracy.]