COHAB's founding principles

The COHAB Initiative was etsablished in response to outputs of the First International Conference on Health and Biodiversty (COHAB 2005) which took place in Galway, Ireland in August 2005. The recommendations from that meeting addressed a number of key issues at the interface of biodiversity and human well-being, and raised issues of governance, equity and participation. These were the core issues around which the COHAB Initiative was established:


(the full summary report is available via the website of the CBD)

  1. Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy and secure life. Human industrial and technological development over the past 50 years has led to significant and often drastic alterations to the natural world. Although these changes have contributed to substantial net gains in our welfare, security and economic development, the benefits have not been distributed evenly across the globe, and the continuing loss of biodiversity and erosion of ecosystem services is already having negative impacts on the health, well-being and security of millions of people, especially in poor and marginalized populations.
  1. International commitments towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be severely hampered unless a concerted and effective effort is made towards reaching the strategic goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to achieve, by the year 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss worldwide. In other words, a failure to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010 may severely affect efforts to address the MDGs by the MDG target year of 2015. Furthermore, beyond 2015, biodiversity loss will continue to undermine the health, security, livelihoods and general well-being of billions of people worldwide. This is not only relevant to the Millennium Development Goal on environmental sustainability – biodiversity loss and ecosystem change affect each of the MDGs, and particularly those goals that deal with health.

  1. Conversely, a failure to address the MDGs, or to put appropriate measures in place towards their implementation, within the next 2 to 3 years, will seriously affect the ability of nations to address the CBD 2010 target. Beyond 2010, a failure to adequately address issues of poverty, debt relief, trade, and security will continue to create conflicts between people and the natural environment. Such conflicts will likely result in further impacts on biodiversity that may, ultimately, create further challenges for human health and welfare, and livelihood sustainability. Therefore, protection of biodiversity must play a central role in national action plans towards the MDGs. Governments must ensure that appropriate measures to safeguard biodiversity are copper-fastened into all local, regional, national and international development plans and programmes as a matter of urgency.
  1. The protection of agricultural biodiversity is vital to the dietary health of billions of people worldwide. Improving dietary diversity can play a significant role in addressing diseases related to poor nutritional diversity, including malnutrition, obesity, cardio-vascular disorders, diabetes and cancers, as well as promoting livelihood sustainability and improving environmental quality. Governments should ensure that the genetic and species diversity of agricultural produce is preserved and improved, and that the importance of dietary diversity based on crop and livestock varieties is explained and promoted to consumers.
  1. Biodiversity is vital to traditional and modern medicinal practice, particularly in the face of the global problems of increasing antibiotic resistance and emerging infectious diseases. Biodiversity loss severely threatens potential future resources for the treatment of illness. Bioprospecting – the exploration and exploitation of chemical compounds from natural sources – can represent a valuable tool for both conservation and drug discovery. However, representatives of indigenous communities participating in COHAB 2005 expressed concerns that unsustainable patterns of exploitation are threatening the livelihoods and health of communities in many regions. Furthermore, concerns were expressed about cases where exploitation of traditional knowledge systems has occurred without respect for the owners of that knowledge, and without due consideration for the principles of equitable access and benefit sharing. There is a need to ensure that bioprospecting preserves and respects traditional knowledge systems, and involves local communities in a manner that values and protects habitats and species, creates local business opportunities and supports the continuance of local cultural traditions. This requires direct engagement and collaboration with the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, national institutes of health and medicine, and research funding agencies worldwide.
  1. There is compelling evidence that the effects of recent disasters – including the tsunami in South East Asia in 2004, the famine in Niger in 2005 and the effects of hurricane Katrina in the Americas in 2005 – have been exacerbated by ecosystem change, unsustainable development and biodiversity loss associated with human activities. A failure to recognise these issues and to account for biodiversity and essential ecosystem services in relief and redevelopment programmes, may simply negate today’s relief efforts if such disasters recur in the future. Furthermore, in a world where climate change may result in more unpredictable weather patterns and more frequent and more extreme storms, the services provided by biodiversity will be critical for human communities most at risk from such events. Therefore, where appropriate, the protection, management and restoration of ecosystems must play a central role in disaster relief and emergency aid programmes.
  1. The Convention on Biological Diversity requires that biodiversity is appropriately accounted for in environmental impact assessments, and in all areas of local and national policy – including health, transport, tourism, trade, education etc. However, it is clear from many of the presentations and discussions at COHAB 2005 that these requirements are not being adequately addressed in many regions. The need to adopt a truly holistic approach that considers the protection of biodiversity and the wider environment as a vital part of all local, national and international health and development objectives is clear. Governments must ensure in particular that programmes for safeguarding human population health, plant health and animal health take due cognisance of the risk which biodiversity loss represents, and that programmes in other sectors do not conflict with that goal. The use of strategic environmental assessments can and should play a significant role in addressing this issue and in the implementation of the CBD’s strategic objective.
  1. The relationship between biodiversity loss and the emergence and spread of new and more virulent disease organisms is of great international significance. There is clear scientific evidence that outbreaks of many diseases, including SARS, Ebola, malaria, and the HIV pandemic, have resulted from human impacts on habitats and our interaction with wildlife – including inter alia ecosystem change, the bushmeat trade and the wildlife trade. The current international spread of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza may also be facilitated by these activities, and it is possible that human impacts on biodiversity could increase the risk of this and other diseases being transmitted to human and wildlife populations. Failure to address the root causes of disease emergence associated with ecosystem change or impacts on wildlife could have severe global consequences. Therefore, it is essential that the use of biodiversity indicators and the protection of ecosystems be integrated into international efforts to prevent emerging infectious diseases.
  1. In developing and developed countries, biodiversity and environmental values have a cultural, spiritual and social significance often not clearly recognised by governments or the general public. Through an awareness of heritage and the concept of ‘sense of place’, biodiversity is important to the psychological and spiritual well-being of communities and wider populations; in many regions, particularly in western societies, biodiversity loss or a dissociation from the natural environment can have negative impacts on social structure and behaviour. This must also be taken into consideration in the planning and implementation of local and national development plans.
  1. There is a pressing need for international initiatives to fill the gaps between the environmental sector and the health and development communities, and for local and national governments to start implementing programmes to address the links between human well-being and biodiversity as a matter of urgency. Further research is required to identify key areas (thematic and geographic) for action – e.g. targeting critical ecosystems and ecosystem processes, preserving indigenous knowledge systems, identifying wildlife and human communities at risk, and evaluating the social, cultural, economic and environmental significance of habitats and species. Scientists and policy makers must work more closely within and across disciplines to ensure that the roles and functions of biodiversity are better understood, and that the values of biodiversity are better explained to those outside of the ecological sciences, and particularly to the general public.







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