This is defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity as the variability among living organisms from all sources (land, sea, fresh water) and the 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 Biodiversity 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.
Resistance to the Cartagena Protocol focused on the inclusion of genetically modified food products in the agreement, because it was argued that they will be consumed, not planted, and so do not pose an environmental or food security problem. Concern over the potential impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on biodiversity has led to further calls for international regulation of the movement of GMOs across national borders (see genetically modified foods).
Biodiversity is also linked to intellectual property rights (IPR) and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement 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. There are few ways in which communities can protect the value of such traditional knowledge. Biopiracy relates to industrial patents that exploit indigenous biodiversity and traditional knowledge for the profit of (often foreign) companies without recognizing or compensating the source community. There are also problems about identifying the true market value of a product that has not yet been commercially exploited.