October 2012

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COHAB Initiative statement on health and biodiversity ahead of the CBD COP 11 meeting in Hyderabad, India


The 11th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP11) takes place in Hyderabad, India from 8th to 19th October. The COHAB Initiative Secretariat and its partners are working to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity to human health amongst delegates and hopes to encourage global commitments to addressing this issue. The following position statement is being released ahead of the meeting to call for further progress in bridging gaps between the health and biodiversity sectors:


All major areas of public health policy and activity – including infectious and non-infectious disease, nutrition, disaster risk, medicinal use, mental well-being and health research – are influenced by biodiversity and the ecosystem goods and services it provides. Human health is a key indicator of sustainable development – healthy populations are utterly dependent upon a healthy natural environment. As such, the loss of biodiversity poses a continuing threat to human health, and limits the resilience of communities and our ability to adapt to new and emerging health risks, particularly in the developing world.

There is much that the health and biodiversity sectors have in common. Two vital areas of common interest where opportunities for resource sharing and co-operation to mutual benefit may yield significant dividends are the health-related Millennium Development Goals and the health impacts of climate change. The importance of biodiversity to human health will also be an important consideration in United Nations development agenda post -2015.

Whilst the links between health and biodiversity have been increasingly recognised in biodiversity science and policy, the involvement of the health sector in addressing issues of conservation concern has generally been very limited. An important barrier has been the lack of engagement in biodiversity issues at the highest levels of global health policy, such as at the World Health Assembly, the governing body for the World Health Organisation. As a result, the WHO has not been adequately mandated to engage with the CBD or other elements of the biodiversity community on key areas of overlap. The engagement of regional, national and local health authorities has also been limited.

Since CBD COP8 in Curitiba, Brazil in 2006, the Conference of Parties has increasingly recognised the importance of the health sector as a key stakeholder in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.  The 10th COP meeting in Nagoya, Japan resulted in the most significant COP decisions relating to public health to date,(1) calling for direct interaction between the CBD and the World Health Assembly, as well as specific action to address areas of overlap between the health and biodiversity communities. This notably included a request to explore the links between the health impacts of climate change and the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, since many of the anticipated impacts on health are influenced by biodiversity or ecosystem change.

In response to the COP10 decisions, the CBD Secretariat has worked with WHO, the COHAB Initiative and others to build capacity amongst national and local institutions towards integrating linkages between health and biodiversity into national conservation strategies and action plans, as well as raising awareness amongst health sector interests.(2)  In March 2012, a statement on the importance of biodiversity to health was presented on behalf of the CBD’s Executive Secretary during the opening plenary session of the 65th World Health Assembly.(3)

A report titled “Our Planet, Our health, Our Future” was prepared by the WHO with the Secretariats of the three Rio Conventions,(4) and released to coincide with the Rio+20 summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, detailing the links between the Rio Conventions and public health issues. The CBD and WHO also recently held an exploratory seminar on the links between health and biodiversity in South America in September 2012, with a further seminar planned for Africa in early 2013. These aim to increase knowledge and awareness at regional levels, and encourage greater dialogue between the health and environment sectors. This work has been of great benefit in highlighting the relevance of this issue to broader sustainable development concerns, in line with the outcomes of the Rio+20 summit.(5)

However, much further progress is needed.  Fundamentally, the issue of biodiversity conservation has yet to be embraced by the World Health Assembly as an area for specific engagement with the CBD and the wider environment and biodiversity sector. The WHO recognises the value of biodiversity to health and well-being. However, it is not directed to address the gaps in science, policy and action on the links between health and biodiversity or to raise further awareness of these issues at global, regional or national levels of health policy and practice. These problems limit the resources available for effective and meaningful co-operation, and hinder the mainstreaming of biodiversity at strategic policy levels.

As a result, these gaps continue to pose a major barrier to co-operation on health and biodiversity. In the context of increasing threats to biodiversity and increasing public health risks linked to climate change and our growing demands on living natural resources, they also represent and important barrier to full realisation of the Aichi Targets.  Continuing outreach to the World Health Assembly, raising the profile of biodiversity within health sector plans and policies, and cross-cutting areas of common concern such as the MDGs and climate change, should continue to be a priority.

The COHAB Initiative Secretariat encourages the COP to help to strengthen its commitment to addressing these gaps, by:

  • recognising the need not only to enhance biodiversity’s contribution to health, but also the role which the health sector can play in biodiversity conservation;
  • calling for further outreach to the World Health Assembly;
  • building on recent collaboration with the WHO to identify areas of overlap between work addressing the health impacts of climate change and work on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity; and
  • promoting further co-operation with the health sector at national and regional levels on the key cross-cutting issues of the health-related MDGs and climate change.




(1) CBD COP Decision X/20 Part 17

(2) See the Note by the Executive Secretary for COP11 in Information Document UNEP/CBD/COP/11/INF/27

(3) Statement by Braulio F. De Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, on the occasion of the 65th Session of the World Health Assembly, 21–26 May 2012, Geneva; available at

(4) See:

(5) The importance of health to sustainable development is highlighted in the Rio+20 outcome report “The Future We Want”; see


Persons attending the COP meetings in Hyderabad who wish to discuss issues linking health and biodiversity with members of the COHAB Initiative Sceretariat should send an email to




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