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Brussels, 2 March 2001

Responsible use of biological resources
- The Global Biodiversity Information Facility -

Keywords: biodiversity, research, preservation, environment, ecology

On 5 March, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin will testify to the strong European commitment to a global initiative for biodiversity. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is an ambitious international project which will be essential for the protection, management and sustainable use of biological resources world-wide by offering unrestricted access to vast quantities of data to scientists. As the new organisation is being established, several EU Member States are offering to act as hosts. During a press briefing today several EU-supported activities in biodiversity research will also be represented.

According to the Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin: "We have much more information on the stars in the Galaxy than on the living species on Earth, although the latter are very close to us. We have a responsibility to protect this common natural - and vital - heritage. It is very important, in this context, to co-ordinate existing activities and tackle the problems at European level. This will strengthen Europe's position on the international scene. Achieving such an open co-ordination is a major objective of the European Research Area initiative we are now implementing with the Member States."

A press briefing will be organised in Brussels on Monday 5 March 2001 at 11:00 (see programme).

Biodiversity: why our species should concern about all species

Our species has a responsibility to the future, recognised in the Convention on Biological Diversity, to protect and conserve our common natural heritage. It is only by knowing what exists that we will be in a position to conserve it.

There are between 5 and 100 million species on Earth, with a current best guess of around 10 million, of which only some 1.75 million have been scientifically described. The number of species that have been recorded as threatened with extinction - about 26,000 plants and 5,400 animals - is certainly underestimated. Even the 1.75 million recorded species are in general poorly described. At least 75% of the approximately two to three billion biological specimens held by natural history museums are located in the more developed countries, whereas a great percentage of these specimens were collected in other countries. There is a need to render the information associated with these specimens available to the scientists and citizens of less developed countries (as well as their own scientists and citizens), especially in the light of provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility

The GBIF initiative stems from the report of the OECD Megascience forum on Biological Informatics whose conclusions were endorsed by the OECD Science and Technology Ministers in June 1999. The objective of GBIF is to establish a portal providing world-wide access to biodiversity information resources in countries that have joined GBIF. The facility aims also at constituting a training and know-how resource available to all countries on earth, and more particularly to developing countries. Ultimately, GBIF will provide search access to millions of biodiversity records located in databases located around the globe. Through the GBIF portal, users will be able to use search engines to access this multitude of data interactively and in real time.

GBIF will be an important tool for protection, management and sustainable use of biological resources world-wide. It will also serve to advance education and scientific research in a host of areas, including conservation biology, agriculture, and biomedicine; contribute economic and quality-of-life benefits for society; and provide a basis from which our knowledge of the natural world can grow rapidly.

The GBIF will make a major contribution to the efforts of the nations of the Earth to implement some of the most important aspects of the Convention on Biological Diversity - not least, by helping developing nations to get access to scientific information on the biodiversity in their own countries.

An example of potential benefits:
In Sweden there is an ongoing discussion concerning the preservation of virgin and so-called natural forests. Both reserves and different methods of forestry are used to prevent further decrease of biodiversity in those forests. The rescuing of threatened species is used as a measurement of the success of reaching the goal of preserving biodiversity. Pooling together geographical and ecological data on threatened species and Swedish forests can provide good guidance on the size of the areas that should be strictly preserved, and on the size of the areas with highly modified forestry that is required to preserve biodiversity.

The objectives, characteristics and expected deliverables of this worldwide effort are to be presented through short presentations by various partners in the GBIF initiative and scientists pursuing associated projects at the press briefing in Brussels (see programme).

Setting up GBIF

The establishment of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) was approved in Copenhagen on 2-3 December 2000 by consensus of the 32 delegations present (11 EU Member States and the European Commission; Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Madagascar, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, United States and Taiwan). The OECD, Convention on Biodiversity-SBSTTA and UNEP participated as observers.

Since then, the following countries have already become members of GBIF (see also Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and USA. Associate participants include: the European Commission, Switzerland, Taiwan and Ukraine.

Next steps

The first meeting of the GBIF governing Board will take place on 9-11 March 2001 in Montreal, Canada with the participation of those countries and organisations that have joined GBIF by that date. One of its first task of the Governing Board will be to decide on where to establish its permanent secretariat. Several countries are preparing bids to host the Secretariat, including three EU Member states: Denmark, Spain and The Netherlands.

The EC contribution

Having formalised its membership, the European Commission proposes to play an important role in establishing and co-ordinating a European platform for GBIF. On 20 February, the Research DG published in the Official Journal (OJ 2001/C 53/0) an "advance notice of a joint call for proposals" to establish a European network of biodiversity information (ENBI), through the "Quality of life and management of living resources" and "Energy, environment and sustainable development", programmes (

This network is aimed at pooling relevant technical resources and human expertise at the European level, both in support of the GBIF overall objectives and to facilitate the development of genuine European activities in the field of biodiversity information. The Commission expects to have a large representation in the network of all Member states and countries associated to the Fifth Framework Programme, as well as other countries in the Western European paleartic region.

By advocating and supporting a strong European commitment to biodiversity research and networking, the Commission is helping Europe play a significant role in promoting sustainable use of biodiversity and indirectly strengthening the legitimacy of a European host for the GBIF secretariat.

For additional information:

Brussels, 5 March 2001

GBIF press briefing programme

  • The role of the EU in biodiversity research and in the GBIF
Philippe Busquin, Commissioner for Research (EC)
  • European initiatives in biodiversity information
Dr. Wouter Los, University of Amsterdam (NL)
  • Importance of biodiversity for research and environmental policy
Dr. Hugo von Linstow, Ministry of Research and Information Technology (DK)
  • Importance of GBIF for a biodiversity-rich country
Dr. Montserrat Gomendio-Kindelán, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (ES)
  • Questions and Answers
  • Buffet lunch

Current EU support to biodiversity information activities

In the Fifth Framework Programme - through both the Quality of Life Programme, the Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development (EESD) programme and the Improving Human Potential (IHP) programme - the EC is supporting co-ordination and networking of efforts in biodiversity information in Europe. Initiatives were also launched previously through the Fourth Framework programme.

EESD programme

Quality of Life programme

IHP programme

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PRESS RELEASES | 06.03.2001