Samper discusses biodiversity treaty, future outlook

Scientist Cristián Samper discussed the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity during a Voices of Discovery lecture Thursday, Sept. 21 in McCrary Theatre. Details...

Since 2003, Samper has served as director of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. He said in the last 50 years, population growth has changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than ever before. Since 1960, the human population has expanded from 3 billion to 6 billion.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, held in Brazil, established the Convention on Biological Diversity. The treaty was ratified by 188 countries and set 2010 as the target year for a significant reduction in the loss of biodiversity at global, regional and local levels. The treaty emphasized sustainable conservation of biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of genetic resources.

Samper emphasized the detrimental role of the rapidly increasing ecological footprint left by the human race. He cited fast-growing cities and an overall disconnect from nature as reasons for this.

Sociopolitical and economic factors are indirect factors that also contribute to the issue. Samper said it’s important for richer countries to help poorer countries with biodiversity conservation. He acknowledged that the private sector and other funding sources would likely have to be involved as well.

“About one billion people on the planet survive on less than one dollar per day. The five richest people in the United States have a greater combined wealth than that of the 50 poorest countries,” Samper said.

Samper, describing himself as an eternal optimist, noted certain promising responses that make the 2010 goal appear realistic. Among them are strong institutions to manage ecosystems, improved technology and widespread education. “Clearly the future is in our own hands.”

Born in Costa Rica and raised in Colombia, Samper received his doctorate in biology from Harvard University in 1992.

Earlier in the day, Samper held a question-and-answer session with students in the Koury Business Center.

His presentation was part of the Voices of Discovery science speaker series, co-sponsored by Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Elon University Center for Environmental Studies. The series invites noted scholars in science and mathematics to Elon to share their knowledge and experience with students.