Pandemics to increase in frequency and severity unless biodiversity loss is addressed
UNESCO welcomes the release of the latest expert report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which establishes the links between biodiversity loss and the increase in pandemic risk factors. This scientific report highlights that the current COVID-19 crisis, which it has its origins in microbes carried by animals, and the previous global health pandemics all have one thing in common: their emergence is entirely driven by human activities.
This report released 29 October is the result of a virtual workshop between 22 leading experts who agree that escaping the era of pandemics is possible, but that this will require a seismic shift in approach from reaction to prevention.
There is a clear link between global health pandemics and the biodiversity and climate crisis we are experiencing. The root causes of the pandemics are also the driving force behind the erosion of biodiversity and climate change: human activities. Changes in land use, the expansion and intensification of agriculture and the trade and consumption of wildlife, disrupt ecosystems, promote proximity between humans and wildlife, livestock and humans and thus with the pathogens they carry.
The report warns that future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases, from reaction to prevention. The experts estimate that the cost of risk reduction to prevent pandemics is 100 times less than the cost of responding to such pandemics, “providing strong economic incentives for transformative change”. This will require a deep reassessment and transformation of the relationship between humans and nature, and of the unsustainable consumption practices leading to biodiversity loss, climate change and the emergence of pandemics.
The experts recommend the establishment of a new intergovernmental partnership on health and trade, and the creation of a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention. They also stress the importance of valuing the commitment and knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities.
Through its biodiversity strategy, UNESCO mobilizes its networks and partners to work on a set of values and principles that should guide actions to restore, conserve and transmit the value of biodiversity. We must transform the way we live on Earth together with other species of the living world, and establish a new pact.