More deadly pandemics are likely to follow the coronavirus outbreak in future unless nature is protected, experts have warned .
In a note published on Monday, four leading biodiversity experts said human activities such as deforestation, intensive farming, and exploitation of wild species had created a “perfect storm” for diseases to spread.
They warned that future pandemics would “spread more rapidly” and “kill more people” unless measures are put in place to prevent the rampant destruction of the natural world.
“There is a single species that is responsible for the Covid – 19 pandemic – us, “Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Dr Peter Daszak said.
“Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today.”
As many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and water birds, any of which could be more disruptive and lethal than Covid – 19, their note added.
Professors Settele, Diaz and Brondizio led last year United Nations – backed planetary health check, which culminated in a major report published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
The 2019 report found up to a million species of animals and plants were at risk of extinction as a result of human activity, and concluded that our management of the planet was “eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide”.
Dr Daszak, meanwhile, is president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which aims to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.
In Monday’s note, the quartet said the coronavirus crisis, like the climate and biodiversity crises, was a “direct consequence” of 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,” they said.
As such, stimulus packages aimed at rebooting economies ravaged by the Covid- 19 pandemic should only be deployed if they offer incentives for more sustainable and nature positive activities, the experts suggested.
“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, “they said.
They also called for a “one health” approach that recognises the health of people, wildlife and the environment are all connected, and for funding of programs and health systems that incentivise behavior change in nations on the frontlines of pandemic risk.