Health is often considered as a basic human right, and is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as not simply being free from illness, but in a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Biodiversity can be considered as the foundation for human health as it underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for our food and fresh water; aids in regulating climate, floods and disease; provides recreational benefits and offers aesthetic and spiritual enrichment. Biodiversity also contributes to local livelihoods, to both traditional and modern medicines and to economic development.
All human health ultimately depends on ecosystem services that are made possible by biodiversity and the products derived from them. While the inter-linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health are inherently complex, inter-disciplinary research is aiming to develop a more thorough understanding of these essential relationships.
At its tenth meeting in 2010, the Conference of the Parties(COP) adopted, in decision X/2, the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020
with 20 global targets known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, to guide national and international efforts to conserve biodiversity. While all the Targets have potential linkages to health and well-being, Aichi Target 14 focuses explicitly on ecosystem services that contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being. Actions that support implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets
provide opportunities to improve both global human health and ecosystem health. In that perspective, the COP also adopted a decision calling on the Secretariat of the Convention to further strengthen collaboration with the World Health Organization as well as other relevant organizations and initiatives with a view to promoting the consideration of biodiversity issues in health programmes and plans as appropriate, including the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and as a contribution to the achievement of other global commitments. By 2012, with a strengthened mandate for global cooperation on biodiversity and health, the Secretariat's Joint Work Programme on Biodiversity and Health with the World Health Organization was formally established pursuant to COP decision XII/21.
The current rate of biodiversity loss may have grave consequences and hamper efforts to meet a range of Sustainable Development Goals and Targets, including those related to poverty, hunger and health, by increasing the vulnerability of the poor and reducing their options for sustainable development. Vulnerable populations including the poor, marginalized, women and children, will likely suffer first and most severely as they often rely more directly on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services for their very survival.
Our fundamental reliance on biodiversity and the ecosystems and services it sustains offers significant opportunities to more consistently recognize and manage biodiversity’s services for human health and to contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use at all scales. We can improve our understanding of the complex linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health and promote co-benefits through more integrated policies and implementation activities by strengthening collaboration with the health sector and mainstreaming biodiversity and health linkages into national strategies policies, programmes, accounts and reporting instruments. Parties have formally acknowledged the need for strengthened policy alignment at this nexus by adopting the first COP decisions on biodiversity and health at the twelfth (decision XII/21) and thirteenth (decision XIII/6) Conference of the Parties. In December 2016, in Decision XIII/3, health was also identified as one of four key mainstreaming sectors for the 14th Conference of the Parties.