Prescription to ensure the good health of our planet

BIODIVERSITY conservation has been and will continue to be widely promoted as a potent prescription for robust planetary health. Scientists have shared much evidence on the important role the world’s flora and fauna play in sustaining a vibrant planet. Unless the planet's fragile biodiversity is effectively conserved, say climate experts, there will be grave consequences for humanity.

Biodiversity in nature is a key part in life’s complex jigsaw. However, biodiversity scientists are constantly warning that many critical parts of this jigsaw are now under serious threat of extinction because of our own doing.

Conservation researchers say that species are to ecosystems what rivets are to a plane’s wing. Losing one might not be a disaster, but each loss adds to the likelihood of a more serious problem.

Whether in a village in the Amazon or a metropolis such as Beijing, humans depend on the services ecosystems provide, such as fresh water, pollination of plants, soil fertility and stability, food and medicine.

Ecosystems weakened by loss of biodiversity are less likely to deliver these services, especially given the needs of an ever-growing human population, which is now approaching 10 billion.

Researchers have confirmed the close link between disease outbreaks and the degradation of nature. Seventy percent of emerging viral diseases have spread from animals to humans. We must therefore take care of nature to take care of ourselves. By protecting the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems, future pandemics could be prevented.

Studies also show that nature can deliver at least 30% of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to prevent climate catastrophes. Some ecosystems, such as mangroves, are particularly good at storing carbon. In his book Mangrove Magic; Game of Clones, Datuk Dr Ghazally Ismail, former deputy vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) provides an interesting insight into plants and animal species that are seriously at risk of extinction due to the rapid disappearance of their mangrove habitat.

During a recent encounter with him at a UPM symposium on biodiversity where he was an invited speaker, he shared his passion for what I call a futuristic look at how we can best benefit from our treasures in biodiversity. He strongly believes in the creation of a national R&D centre for nature and has long advocated the establishment of a natural science museum in the country, like the Natural History Museum in London and the American Museum of Natural History.

He will have to continue dreaming unless we see some spark of interest from the current administration, which seems passionate about change.

Conserving biodiversity is not just about leaving our forests untouched to lock in the carbon. To effectively tap on the hidden treasures of

biodiversity, we need to invest in research to find out what lies beneath.

We must also collect and preserve the many species of flora and fauna on our doorstep. Who knows, there may be many more compounds in them that could hold the cure to some debilitating diseases now and in the future. Investing in a national R&D centre for this is not a bad idea.

Humanity must stop the pace of extinctions, or face extinction itself.

At a time when more than one million species are at risk of extinction, and the links between human health and the health of the planet are clear, the stakes have never been higher.


Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy

UCSI University

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