Without the oxygen produced by plants, there would be no life on Earth. Plants have created a habitable biosphere that led to the emergence and maintenance of animal life, and form the very basis of terrestrial ecosystems. They provide various ecosystemic services essential to humanity. The twentieth century has witnessed the disappearance of natural ecosystems, loss of biodiversity at the global level and loss of traditional knowledge, all of which threaten these essential services. In the twenty-first century, botanists are facing a changing world. They must apply their knowledge and expertise to meet the actual needs of societies; address new economic, social, educational and environmental challenges; and contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. A conference organized by UNESCO and partners on 22-25 September 2014 brought together 300 stakeholders from 60 countries to develop forward-looking perspectives for the botanical profession in this context.
During the conference, entitled “Botanists of the twenty-first century: Roles, challenges and opportunities”, participants assessed the status of current knowledge and expertise related to plants, including scientific as well as indigenous and local knowledge, and considered the current contribution botanists to meeting economic, environmental, educational and social challenges of the twenty-first century. It provided an opportunity to share the latest scientific knowledge and identify global research priorities and policy issues in botany relating to key development areas such as food security, sustainable agriculture or biodiversity conservation.
It brought together very diverse individuals – citizen scientists, conservationists, policy makers, academics, researchers and entrepreneurs, with unique experiences and expertise in a great number of subject, united by a common passion and one objective: to demonstrate the relevance of botany in the current context, and especially the unique and necessary contribution that botanists must make to help us achieve sustainable development.
The conference ended by a visit to the National Museum of National History in Paris, a living example of state of the art tools for research, education and conservation embedded in 350 years of history and tradition.
The conference concluded with a declaration calling for UNESCO to increase its support for capacity building programmes in botany and to strongly encourage building bridges between botanists and society. This can be accomplished through a wide range of organizations, institutions and initiatives, including Botanic Gardens Conservation International and biosphere reserves under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme as well as natural, cultural and mixed sites under the World Heritage Convention. The declaration also called for UNESCO to declare the theme of the 2017 celebration of World Science Day for Peace and Development ‘botany and the plant sciences for sustainable development’.
The conference was also the occasion to explore the universe of Christian Rime with his exhibition of floral faces and to exchange with Françis Hallé on the movie “Il était une forêt” (Once upon a Forest) directed by Luc Jacquet.