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21 Oct 2010

“Its been a long and somewhat disappointing day…”

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In a recent interview with the Wilson Centre’s Environmental Change and Security Programme, the director of the Global Environmental Governance Project, Dr. Maria Ivanova, made the following comment on the issue of global environmental governance: “Global environmental problems cannot be solved by one country or one region alone, and require a collective global response. But they can also not be addressed solely at the global level because they require action by individuals and organizations in particular geographies. The conundrum with climate change is that the countries and regions most affected are the ones least responsible for causing the problem in the first case. We cannot therefore simply substitute a national or regional response for a global action plan, as more often than not, it would be a case of “victim pays” rather than “polluter pays”—the fundamental principle of environmental policy in the United States and most other countries. Importantly, however, our global environmental institutions do not possess the requisite authority and ability to enforce agreements and sanction non-compliance.”

Substitute biodiversity loss for climate change in that statement, and you get some sense of the depressing reality of what faces the delegates here in Nagoya at a conference which is intended to address the world’s deepening ecological crisis. Never before has it been so clear that the continuing loss of biodiversity represents a suite of risks to the global economy, global health and global security. The failure to reach the 2010 target set by the CBD in 2002 (to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010) limits the likelihood of achieving the Millennium Development Goals in many countries, exacerbates the human and economic impacts of the energy, food and financial crises currently underway, and in many regions threatens the sustainability of strategies to implement the World Health Declaration. Yet there are growing concerns in and around the meeting rooms here that the process will achieve little more than a set of voluntary agreements towards another set of aspirational targets. The much anticipated global protocol on access to – and equitable sharing of the benefits from – genetic resources, for which there seemed to be so much excitement during the opening ceremony of the COP, seems unlikely to happen this year. No ABS agreement in 2010, then, and perhaps not even in 2012 when the COP meets again. Why? There seems to be not enough agreement or political will to see the right choices made, according to a senior figure in one conservation agency we met with here today. When we asked what was the likely outcome of the negotiations, his response was simple enough: “disaster”. One delegate we met from Africa was also downbeat about limited progress in some areas today.

Writing for the Guardian on the day the meeting opened, George Monbiot was critical of the CBD process and of the fact that the 20 point plan to save the world’s biodiversity is not much more than an idealist’s framework which could at most result in a set of voluntary actions. He commended Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the CBD, as someone who can listen to the criticisms of the process he oversees and respond in a constructive manner. But, as Dr. Maria Ivanova infers, it is the way with multilateral environmental processes that it makes no difference how devoted and passionate the people in charge of the conventions are, if the UN members do not agree to give those institutions the power to enforce or sanction any failure to commit. Even when long term economic security is at stake, it is often the case that short term economic concerns matter more.

There are plenty of people here fighting for more than just promises. Although the atmosphere is perhaps less positive or vibrant than earlier COP meetings, everyone is at least aware of the need to halt biodiversity loss as a matter of urgency, but political will may be lacking. Is it true, then that we are destined to a future of ever decreasing living resources, deepening poverty, increasing disease risk and disaster impact, and less and less security? Well, no, we don’t believe so. The next post will explain why.

20 Oct 2010

Position statement on health and biodiversity

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The following is the text of a position statement by the COHAB Initiative Secretariat which we have circulated at CBD COP10 this week. It deals specifically with the issue of co-operation with the World Health Organisation, COHAB and other organisations, which was mandated under CBD COP9 Decision IX/27:

Position Statement of the COHAB Initiative Secretariat with regard to the draft text open for discussion in relation to Item 4.9(a),
Cooperation with other conventions and international organizations and initiatives, engagement of stakeholders, including business and biodiversity, cities and biodiversity, and South/South cooperation

In 1998 in Geneva, the World Health Assembly adopted the World Health Declaration, outlining a global “Health for All” policy for the 21st Century. This was a global commitment to strengthen health systems towards implementing the ideal of universal primary healthcare, and a commitment to address emerging health threats supported by appropriate levels of investment. Since then, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a rapidly increasing body of scientific data, show that the continuing degradation of global ecosystems and associated loss of biodiversity are significantly increasing risks to human health on many fronts, from emerging infectious diseases to deepening nutrition insecurity; loss of medicinal resources; increased risk of natural disaster; weakening of resources required for disaster relief and recovery; loss of genetic resources of value to medical science; loss of community “sense of place”; greater social dislocation and mental illness. Biodiversity loss threatens the realisation of the basic human rights to security and a healthful life, and it represents a direct challenge to the delivery of “Health for All”. In light of these growing concerns, we must ask the questions: why is the health sector not heavily involved in biodiversity discussions at the global level, or more widely active in development of biodiversity strategies at local and national levels? And why does the investment of resources to address anticipated future health crises not include support for conservation of critical ecosystem goods and services?

The World Health Organisation has recognised the value of biodiversity to health and well-being. WHO was involved in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, calls for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity used in traditional medicine, and monitors animal health as a sentinel of potential human health risks. However, this has not translated into co-operation on health and biodiversity at strategic policy levels, and in many countries public awareness of the health benefits of biodiversity is low. These are problems which prevent effective mainstreaming of biodiversity into a sector which sits at the core of national policies and planning, and limits support for practical partnerships on the ground. But there are many areas where both sectors can come together and share resources to work towards similar goals. Perhaps the most important area for co-operation is climate change. The WHO recognises climate change as a direct threat to human health. Many of the anticipated health threats – including new pest and disease outbreaks and certain disaster risks – will come about through climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. Partnership between the health and biodiversity communities on these issues would seem logical and necessary, yet there is no programme of work in place for co-operation between CBD and WHO on this key issue. The situation is broadly similar for issues of water, nutrition, wildlife health and traditional medicinal knowledge.

Sustainable health systems are a requirement for sustainable development, but cannot be achieved unless we halt the loss of biodiversity. These issues are of great importance to the revised strategy for the Convention which is before this Conference of Parties here in Nagoya, with regard to awareness, with regard to national accounts, with regard to economic impacts, and in particular to indicators and investment in conservation actions. Furthermore, the negotiations relating to the protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing bear particular significance for the issue of neglected tropical diseases, which affect a disproportionate number of indigenous and local communities, and will require greater involvement with the WHO.

The Secretariat to the CBD, UNDP, FAO, UNESCO and other IGOs as well as many NGOs have been active in raising the issue of health at previous COPs and in reaching out to the health sector. This includes the work carried out by the Secretariat in partnership with the COHAB Initiative on the International Conferences on Health and Biodiversity, the publication of the book “Sustaining Life” with the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and work carried out by the Secretariat and the COHAB Initiative in response to COP9 decision IX/27 subsection 9. Many COHAB Partners around the world are also active in linking health and biodiversity in research and at community level. However, the biodiversity crisis is still not on the agenda of global health policy. Specific action is needed to bring biodiversity into the realm of the World Health Assembly, which is the governing body of the World Health Organisation, and to foster practical partnerships to mainstream the new strategic plan of the CBD into the strategies of health sector.

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20 Oct 2010

Health at CBD COP10

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The COHAB Initiative Secretariat is represented at COP10 in Nagoya this week and next, helping to bring health issues into better focus at the meeting.

We’ll be posting updates here from today. We have a busy morniing scheduled, meeting with IUCN and several delegations on the language for some of the decisions being proposed, and on future projects. The atmosphere here is lively but a bit subdued compared to the last COP in Bonn, with several organisations not represented and some national delegations very much reduced on account of the downturn. Hopefully that won’t negatively affect the discussions or outcomes….

19 Oct 2010

Welcome to the blog of the COHAB Initiative

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This blog will bring you news and stories on issues linking biodiversity with human health and well-being. We are working on getting this looking and working right so please bear with us as we tweak a few widgets and headers over the coming days.

Feel free to give us your thoughts and opinions on the blog and to alert us and other readers to news items, emerging issues, projects, and people working on health and biodiversity issues.