“Unsustainable Exploitation of the Environment” Will Lead to More COVIDs

Yesterday leaders from 190 countries were supposed to have met in Kunming, China for final negotiations on a biodiversity treaty designed to address the world’s urgent extinction and biodiversity crises. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made attendance of the UN Biodiversity Conference impossible.

However, a panel of experts from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) (an independent intergovernmental body open to all member countries of the UN) released a report that links zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 to “unsustainable exploitation of the environment,” including the wildlife trade and land-use change.

The report also took aim at the United States for its role in driving the wildlife trade, as the country is “one of the largest legal importers of wildlife with 10-20 million individual wild animals (terrestrial and marine) imported each year, largely for the pet trade.”

Why This Matters: We know how to prevent future pandemics: we must immediately curb the rapid loss of nature. We also know the targeted action we need to take (like protecting 30% of all nature by 2030), but we urgently need the political will to get it done. `

Not The Last Threat: According to the report, COVID-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and although it has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities.

  • It is estimated that another 1.7 million currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses exist in mammals and birds – of which up to 850,000 could have the ability to infect people.

Dr. Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance and Chair of the IPBES workshop explained that,

The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.

The Solutions: As the report made clear: pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by:

  • Reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity,
  • Greater conservation of protected areas,
  • Measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions.

This will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spillover of new diseases

Next Steps: Nations of the world need not wait until the next UN Biodiversity Conference to take action to protect nature. As Brian O’Donnell, Director of Campaign for Nature,  said in a statement responding to the IPBES report,

The biodiversity summit may be postponed, but we can’t afford to delay efforts to end the extinction crisis. Fortunately, world leaders in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and North America aren’t waiting. From Canada to the European Union, we’re seeing an upswell in pledges to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030. These leaders know that acting boldly on nature now will lead to overlapping benefits: helping to prevent future pandemics, maintaining sources of medicines, addressing the dual existential crises of biodiversity loss and climate change all while providing economic benefits to communities around the world.”

O’Donnell also explained that protecting nature has numerous multiplier effects that are needed for a “green recovery” from the current pandemic:

“We know that financing biodiversity pays off and that nature conservation drives economic growth. A recent analysis by 100 economists and scientists show the benefits of protected areas outweigh costs 5-to-1.”

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