International Day for Biological Diversity 2016

Sunday the 22nd of May is International Day for Biological Diversity 2016, this year’s theme is ‘Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods’.

The United Nations and Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) state: Biodiversity is the foundation for life and for the essential services provided by ecosystems. It therefore underpins peoples’ livelihoods and sustainable development in all areas of activity, including economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, among others. By halting biodiversity loss, we are investing in people, their lives and their well-being. The thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 13) to be held in Cancun, Mexico from 4 to 17 December 2016, will focus on the mainstreaming of biodiversity within and across sectors.

One of those key sectors is health. The recent Convention on Biodiversity COP 12 decision (XII/21) encourages parties to ‘consider the linkages between biodiversity and human health in the preparation of national biodiversity strategies and action plans, development plans, and national health strategies’ and emphasised ‘the relevance of the linkages between biodiversity and human health for the post-2015 United Nations development agenda and the sustainable development goals’.

There is increasing recognition of the importance of biodiversity to health. This is, for example, reflected in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recent report on links between the environment and health outcomes, with Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, noting that ‘A healthy environment underpins a healthy population’. In 2015 the WHO worked with the CBD to produce a comprehensive State of Knowledge Review of the multiple relationships between biodiversity and human health (we contributed to the mental health chapter).

Here at the European Center for Environment and Human Health we have also been working towards better understanding the linkages between biodiversity and the many dimensions of human health wellbeing.

Over the past few years we have used systematic review methodologies to address specific aspects of the linkages between biodiversity and health. We have shown that there is some evidence that more biodiverse environments are associated with good health, particularly quality of life, and that taking part in environmental conservation activities may benefit health through a number of pathways including physical activity, social contact, contact with nature and opportunities for achievement.

We have used a range of other methodologies including secondary analysis of large scale environment and health data sets to show an association between indicators of biodiversity and population health, qualitative approaches to explore the richness of the impacts of our interactions with nature, and psychological experiments to identify how biodiversity influences people’s behavioral, physiological, and psychological reactions.

Our colleague Dr Ruth Garside collaborated with the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) Partnership to undertake a mapping review, using systematic methods of identification and categorisation, to identify over 60 studies which had examined the impacts of ecological conservation activities in low and middle income countries on human health and wellbeing outcomes. The authors note, in an article for Nature News and Comment, more effective use of existing (and future) evidence is needed to help meet the aims of initiatives, such as The Sustainable Development Goals which were launched in September by the United Nations, which seek to make the connections between biodiversity and health.

We are using the outcomes of our research to inform policy and decision makers at all scales and to contribute to the UN’s aim to mainstream ‘biodiversity within and across sectors’. Our activities range from helping identify how the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) can better address health through it’s policy and service delivery, presenting to the House of Lords Rural Economy Group and at Local Nature Partnership meetings, to working with Cornwall Council to consider how to manage the environment to balance biodiversity with human health. ECEHH are also working at an international level, including contributing to chapter 12 of the WHO and CBD’s State of Knowledge Review, which considered the contribution of biodiversity and green spaces to mental and physical fitness,and cultural dimensions of health.

There is still someway to go and, as we argued in a paper with Dr Natalie Clark and Professor Ken Norris, ‘we now need an integrated, rigorous approach to investigate these relationships more thoroughly. This need is pressing because the potential societal health benefits of biodiversity… could be significant’. However our understanding is improving and there appears to be far greater appreciation and recognition of the links between biodiversity and health across government, business and the 3rd sector. Hopefully the aims of the thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in December 2016, to mainstream biodiversity within and across sectors, will be achieved over the coming years.

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