The coronavirus pandemic has completely turned the world upside down, causing devastation in almost all facets of our lives. Scientists and experts have been warning, even prior to the pandemic, that the world was not prepared for a global crisis such as this and humanities treatment of nature and wildlife has played a major part in the current pandemic and future ones to come.
A new global biodiversity report, published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), stands as a warning from the world’s leading experts in nature, who argue that a global effort to tackle biodiversity and the current climate crisis will prevent future outbreaks that may be even more deadly. It puts forward possible policies, preventative measures and steps to safeguard the world against this risk. The report states: “pandemics are becoming more frequent. Without preventive strategies, they will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact.”
Much of our contact with pandemic-causing diseases directly derives from humanities abuse of nature and wildlife. Practically all of the known pandemic diseases have originated from animals, for example HIV from hunting Chimpanzees and Ebola from hunting wild primates. Humans continue to clear great swathes of forests and wild habitats for farming meaning that we come into close contact with deadly diseases. The demand for palm oil, for example has almost single-handedly destroyed over half of the rainforest in Borneo, threatening the existence of the orangutan.
As we continue with deforestation practices, we cut into the habitats of local wildlife and risk releasing these pandemic-causing diseases into the world. Due to the fact that more and more people are living or working closer to wild animals that have been forced to live in smaller areas, and thus come into contact with these new diseases. Unregulated practices such as the hunting and wildlife trade play a major role in the spread of animal-derived diseases. Wild animals are sold as pets or for food with little consideration of the risk, live wildlife markets are breeding grounds for diseases, which, as we all know, caused the current coronavirus crisis. The paper explains:
“The underlying causes of pandemics are the same global environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss and climate change. These include land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, and wildlife trade and consumption. “These drivers of change bring wildlife, livestock, and people into closer contact, allowing animal microbes to move into people and lead to infections, sometimes outbreaks, and more rarely into true pandemics that spread through road networks, urban centers and global travel and trade routes. “The recent exponential rise in consumption and trade, driven by demand in developed countries and emerging economies, as well as by demographic pressure, has led to a series of emerging diseases that originate mainly in biodiverse developing countries, driven by global consumption patterns.”
The report shows that future pandemics are preventable by adjusting the ways in which we treat nature. Halting practices such as deforestation and the wildlife trade are one of the areas highlighted in achieving this. According to New Scientist, ‘controlling the global wildlife trade and reducing land-use change would cost $40-58 billion per year, the report says. That is a lot, but the covid-19 pandemic is estimated to have cost the global economy $8-16 trillion by July. Before the covid-19 crisis, pandemics in total cost $1 trillion per year – including treatment costs and economic and productivity losses – including the ongoing HIV and influenza pandemics.’ The report identifies areas such as palm oil, exotic wood, mine extraction, transport infrastructures, meat and globalized livestock production as all areas in need of real change.
The report suggests that an international body of leaders, or panel such as the climate change panel, should be set up to oversee and minimize the risk, placing taxes on problematic areas such as meat consumption and incentives for industries such as fur farming to switch to other practices. Policy suggestions include:
- Establishing a ‘high-level’ pandemic prevention council.
- Agreeing an international accord to enhance prevention, prepare for and control outbreaks.
- A universal approach to addressing major land-use projects that interfere with nature.
- Funding conservation of critical areas for biodiversity.
- Instigating green economic recoveries that offers “an insurance against future outbreaks”.
- Increase agricultural sustainability.
- Addressing meat consumption and promoting transitions to more sustainable diets.
- Incentives for high-risk industries (in terms of the pandemic), such as fur farming, to look at alternative practices.
- Develop sustainable mechanisms for food security and reduce wildlife consumption.