In April, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), published an article placing responsibility for COVID-19 squarely on our shoulders.
“There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us. As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones,” the authors wrote on IPBES.
The separation of health and environmental policy is a dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with. The international community is positioned to make some progress through the Convention on Biological Diversity concerning 196 nations.
“It may be politically expedient at this time to relax environmental standards and to prop up industries such as intensive agriculture, long-distance transportation such as the airlines, and fossil-fuel-dependent energy sectors, but doing so without requiring urgent and fundamental change, essentially subsidizes the emergence of future pandemics,” the scientists emphasize in their IPBES article.
They warn that 1.7 million unidentified viruses known to infect people are estimated to exist in mammals and water birds. Any one of these may be more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19. With that in mind, the authors suggest three facets that should be considered for COVID-19-related stimulus plans. Countries should strengthen environmental regulations; adopt a ‘One Health’ approach to decision-making that recognizes complex interconnections among the health of people, animals, plants, and our shared environment; and prop up healthcare systems in the most vulnerable countries where resources are strained and underfunded.
“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people,” the scientists write. “This is not simple altruism – it is vital investment in the interests of all to prevent future global outbreaks.”
The next phase of the Convention on Biological Diversity treaty, currently in draft form, proposes that at least 30% of land and ocean be conserved, up from 17% in the previous round. Expanding our protected areas system is vital because the large-scale protection of nature is the key game-changer needed to mitigate future pandemics, the climate crises, and ultimately the age of extinction.