During February, 2015, the 14th World Congress on Public Health in, Kolkata, India, revealed a new “ground-breaking” report entitled, Connecting Global Priorities: Biodiversity and Human Health, which demonstrates human health benefits yielded from protecting Earth’s biodiversity. It’s designed to be the new ”flagship publication” that acts as a primary source of information that supports the upcoming 2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals of the the United Nations.
It was developed by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It features contributions from many partners and over 100 experts, including Biodiversity International, COHAB Initiative, EcoHealth Alliance, Harvard School of Public Health, United Nations University, Wildlife Conservation Society’s Health & Ecosystems and many more.
The link between human well-being and biological diversity is considerable and anything but simple. The wide range of services our ecosystems and biodiversity provide make them the building blocks for all life on Earth. However, today there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that biodiversity loss is happening at unprecedented rates.
The report details the relationship between biodiversity and human health by explaining how one impacts the other, including impacts on water and air quality, food production and nutrition, microbial diversity and noncommunicable diseases, infectious diseases, medicines, and mental, physical and cultural well-being.
“They are sources of food, nutrients, medicines, fuel, energy, and livelihoods and cultural and spiritual enrichment. They also contribute to the provision of clean water and air, and perform critical functions that range from the regulation of pests and disease to that of climate change and natural disasters.” ~Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations
As our climate changes there are a number of negative impacts ranging from human health due do to reduced air quality to degradation of agricultural systems and nutritional content of foods. These changes lead to increased competition over access to the resources provided by our ecosystems which elevates social conflict. Biodiversity actually helps improve the resilience of ecosystems which helps adaptation to climate change and moderating impacts of disasters, making it’s protection all the more important.
The report continues to outline the importance of sustainable consumption and production. As our population and consumption rates continue to grow at a rapid pace, biodiversity and human health face bigger threats when not managed and monitored properly. Education and improved access to contraceptives is recommended to help slow and reverse the trends so we can alleviate pressure from our ecosystems. In addition, solutions to secure food and security and reduce poverty while protecting biodiversity and addressing climate change are found to be plausible but require transformational change. Some examples include, management of greenhouse gasses, increased agricultural productivity, restoring degraded land, reducing pesticide pollution and water use as well as reducing meat consumption.
However, those solutions are not enough alone. To improve human health and protect biodiversity, behavioral change will be a necessary part of the puzzle. Human behavior is influenced by a persons environmental surroundings, such as, “differences in knowledge, values, social norms, power relationships, and practices”. The report outlines those factors as the heart of the, “interlinkages between health and biodiversity, including challenges related to food, water, disease, medicine, physical and mental well-being, adaptation and migration of climate change.” It is suggested that we leverage social sciences to motivate lifestyle choices consistent with health and biodiversity objectives such as production and consumption patterns. Public awareness through education should be spread widely through school systems and other channels.
They delve into strategies and tools for protecting and enhancing our health and biodiversity. These include thoughts on how we manage ecosystems, promoting biodiversity-friendly lifestyles, education and mobilization of the public health sector, addressing drivers of environmental change such as deforestation and chemical pollution, and monitoring forecasting progress. These strategies are to be developed with the sole intention of ensuring biodiversity and health linkages are widely recognized, valued and reflected in national and biodiversity conservation policies. A key component being the need for cooperation among various sectors to bring the recommended solutions to life and allow for use by policy makers and practitioners is stressed.
This article was originally published on Mongabay.com.