Biodiversity, a fundamental for Human Health - an update

Three years ago DEA produced a poster on Biodiversity - the Web of Life. It asked “Will the next generation inhabit a healthy earth?” The poster was very popular especially with schools.

In the intervening years DEA has commented occasionally on biodiversity and ecological services-  and we have devoted ourselves to one of the causes of loss of biodiversity, climate change. On every measurement, biodiversity continues to decline. Usually our attention is drawn to some attractive species of animal nearing extinction but I commend the recent report “Plants under pressure a global assessment” from the International Union of the Conservation of Nature”. Click here  The report says that more than 20% of plants are threatened with extinction, the most threatened habitat being rainforest and the greatest threat is from human activities such as the conversion of natural habitat for agriculture and livestock. Human impact is the main threat in the case of  87% of threats to extinction. A further 10% of plants are ‘near threatened’ which means they may become threatened unless conservation action is undertaken.

Like climate change it is an issue that conveys a sense of impotence, one just does not wish to think about it. One looks at some human responses to the crisis and they seem to be raising the white flag. The Millennium Seed Bank, the re-branding of zoos as repositories of endangered animal species, which can be returned to their habitat if it is ever revived, and the research on recreation from genetic material, all hopes for the day when population growth has reversed.

Because plants are an integral part of most ecosystems throughout the world, there is a measurable decline in vital goods and services, such as food, timber, fibre, medicine, the regulation of water, soil erosion control and climate change mitigation.

There are some positives

SOS Fund is established at the Convention on Biodiversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan

This recent meeting established a partnership between the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (an independent financial facility), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. SOS stands for Save Our Species. Representatives of 200 governments were represented and agreed on targets for 2020. Delegates agreed goals to protect oceans, forests and rivers and to take steps to put a price on the value of benefits such as clean water from watersheds and coastal protection by mangroves by including such "natural capital" into national accounts.

After experience with emission targets to mitigate climate change one has to be sceptical of government’s abilities to deliver. However it is an issue where citizens can do more than with the issue of climate change which is bedevilled by politics and awaits legislative action by governments.

Within Australia the following two examples can be cited:-

The Tasmanian agreement on forests

In reality this is recent agreement is a measure to stabilise biodiversity and ecological services which has been achieved by conservation groups and individual citizens in the face of damaging government and industry activities over 20 years. If this is extended to Victoria and New South Wales it will be a huge advance in stabilising biodiversity..

The increasing recognition of biodiversity by the farming sector

Biodiversity is increasingly recognised as farmer friendly and many landholders are taking action to re-establish habitat. It has been seen that with the breaking of the drought, many depleted or apparently absent species have recovered rapidly indicating that positive impacts on maintenance of habitat are effective.

What can DEA do?

In our actions and correspondence we can continue to emphasise that biodiversity has major health connotations. For many years a succession of members of DEA have written to me telling me about their innovative actions. I expect the new web site which will be unveiled before Christmas will encompass the sharing of these ideas and experiences.
David Shearman