Japan U.N. summit must recognise health values of biodiversity
October 16th 2010
Global public health under threat unless world leaders commit to supporting action on biodiversity loss at U.N. meeting in Japan.
Thousands of decision makers will gather in the city of Nagoya, Japan, from 18th to 29th October for the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. This meeting may represent the last clear chance to halt the pace of global ecosystem change and the ongoing decline of the world’s biodiversity, which have increased the risks of disease epidemics and natural disasters, deepened food insecurity in the developing world, and seen the disappearance of species of potential significance to medicine and medical science.
In 2002, the global community committed to a “significant reduction in the rate of loss of biological diversity ” by 2010. In the European Union, a more ambitious target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 was set. These targets have largely not been met, and the social and economic consequences of species declines and environmental degradation are mounting to a significant threat to public health systems worldwide. For example, the 2010 target was seen as an essential component in achieving many elements of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (addressing critical health and poverty issues by the year 2015). However, damage to ecosystems which protect vulnerable populations from the full effects of natural disasters, or provide traditional medicines upon which millions of people rely, compromises progress towards sustainable development and the delivery of universal primary health care.
Impacts on biodiversity have likely also facilitated the emergence and spread of infectious diseases including Ebola, SARS and avian influenza, and create barriers to current efforts to fight other major diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Biodiversity loss also deepens poverty and wipes out important nutritional resources, compromising efforts to enhance community health.
On the table in Nagoya is a revised strategy with twenty new targets which aim to halt the biodiversity crisis including greater protection of fish stocks, halving or halting the loss and degradation of natural habitats, greater protection of land and marine areas, and phasing out economic incentives that lead to biodiversity loss.
“You cannot have sustainable development without sustainable health care systems, and that depends upon biodiversity,” says Miranda di Camillo, programme officer for Public Health Strategies with the COHAB Initiative Secretariat. “The U.N. meeting in Nagoya is a critically important opportunity to address future health threats and tackle current health risks caused by biodiversity loss. The Convention on Biological Diversity is not simply about protecting wildlife and natural resources; it is about securing the ecosystem goods and services which are fundamental to human health and well-being. Many of the benefits we gain from biodiversity cannot be replaced, or would be too expensive to even try to replicate. For example, when the living library of compounds from living species that is the foundation for future medical research disappears, where do you go?”
In order to reduce many emerging health threats, governments must make certain that the negotiations at Nagoya succeed in reaching a consensus on decisive action over the next decade.
The COHAB Initiative is also calling for greater appreciation at the Nagoya meeting of the need to integrate biodiversity into the policies and actions of the health sector, with health practitioners and organisations recognised as essential partners in the preservation of life on Earth. For their part, health care practitioners and policy makers need to play a greater part in biodiversity conservation, but also need to be afforded greater involvement in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity and the outputs from Nagoya. There must be a cross-sector commitment to ensure that adequate financial mechanisms are in place so that the costs of addressing the biodiversity crisis are met. “The current economic situation may make that difficult,” says the COHAB Secretariat’s executive director, Conor Kretsch, “but the alternative - which is letting biodiversity loss continue as if our health had no connection to the health of the planet - will be vastly more expensive in human and monetary terms. No of us can afford to let that happen.”
For additional information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Mary Kilgarriff, COHAB Initiative Secretariat Programme Assistant for COP10,
Tel: +81 (0)80 3413 7811
The COHAB Initiative (Co-operation on Health and Biodiversity) is an international programme of work established to address the gaps in awareness, policy and action on the links between human health and well-being and the conservation of biological diversity. Set up in 2007, COHAB works with several U.N. agencies, other intergovernmental organisations and NGOs to help highlight the links between biodiversity and human health issues, and has helped to bring public health issues into the discussions of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Secretariat of the COHAB Initiative is based in Galway, Ireland.