UN Foundation Mourns the Loss of Thomas Lovejoy, “Godfather of Biodiversity”

December 26, 2021


Megan Rabbitt

The United Nations Foundation mourns the loss of Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, a pioneering and acclaimed conservation and tropical biologist, who coined the term “biological diversity” and is widely credited with first putting the threat of tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss at the top of the global agenda. As a UN Foundation Senior Fellow, Lovejoy advised the Foundation and its Board on biodiversity and environmental science and was a cherished colleague and friend.

“Tom Lovejoy was a true force of nature,” said UN Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Cousens. “Few people have had as profound an impact on our understanding of the critical need to conserve our natural world, or of nature’s power to shape humanity’s ultimate prospects. His love of the planet’s wondrous diversity was infectious. He inspired young researchers and world leaders alike with an extraordinary mind matched only by his kindness and generosity of spirit.”

A giant in the field, Lovejoy was a powerful voice for nature, especially his beloved Amazon. He spent over five decades studying and championing the Amazon rainforest, where he founded the nonprofit Amazon Biodiversity Center that produced some of the earliest research on deforestation and forest fragmentation. As early as 1980, he produced the first study of global extinction rates, correctly predicting mass species loss on the scale we are now seeing today.

Lovejoy was a valued member of the UN Foundation, where he advised Foundation leaders on biodiversity and environmental science, initially as an adviser to the Foundation’s founding president, former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth, and then as a Senior Fellow.

Tim Wirth, now a UN Foundation Board Member, said: “Tom was a brilliant scholar who also understood that nature needed powerful allies and champions. He pushed the frontiers of environmental science while helping energize a generation of environmental advocates. He leaves an extraordinary legacy and will be terribly missed.”

In addition to serving as a Senior Fellow at the UN Foundation and President of the Amazon Biodiversity Center, Lovejoy was a Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University.

Lovejoy had an enduring impact on many leading institutions, including the National Geographic Society where he served as an Explorer in Residence, and the World Wildlife Fund where he directed the conservation program for over a decade. He was President of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment; Biodiversity Chair of the Heinz Center; and Chief Biodiversity Advisor to the World Bank. He served on science and environmental councils under both Republican and Democratic administrations and received numerous awards and honors, including election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The UN Foundation mourns this tremendous loss and extends heartfelt condolences to Dr. Lovejoy’s family and friends.

About the United Nations Foundation
The UN Foundation is an independent charitable organization created to work closely with the United Nations to address humanity’s greatest challenges, build initiatives across sectors to solve problems at scale, and drive global progress. Learn more at www.unfoundation.org.