Deforestation and forest degradation have played an important role in triggering the pandemic. According to a new study in Nature, the populations of animals hosting zoonotic diseases, like the coronavirus, are up to 2.5 times higher in degraded places, and the number of species carrying these pathogens has increased by up to 70 per cent, compared to undamaged ecosystems.
The world's forests act as shields, protecting humans from emerging infectious diseases. But as we are now witnessing, their destruction can have devastating consequences for global public health.
On the eve of this week's UN Biodiversity Summit, it is disheartening to note that the world has not met its targets to stem the destruction of wildlife and ecosystems in the last decade, according to a new report from the UN on the state of nature.
The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 found that despite progress in some countries, natural habitats continue to disappear and vast numbers of species remain threatened by extinction from human activities.
While global deforestation rates have slowed in the past decade, the degradation and fragmentation of biodiversity-rich ecosystems in the tropics remain high.
Wilderness areas and wetlands are disappearing. Freshwater ecosystems remain critically threatened. The pandemic has clearly shown that humanity’s devastating impact on nature comes with some severe consequences, and unless we restore the balance between the natural and human worlds, these outbreaks will become increasingly prevalent.
Forests — with their significant carbon reduction and removal potential, health benefits, provision of livelihoods and food security for many rural poor and their potential to create an additional 80 million green jobs — are crucial for a sustainable, long-term global recovery. When the economic engines of growth start up again, they cannot run at the expense of climate or nature. Now is the time to step up and commit to conserving and restoring biodiversity. Otherwise, we will continue to feel the impacts of climate change, pollution and pandemics.
A nature-based coronavirus recovery could actually create 400 million jobs by 2030, while pivoting the global economy, according to a recent report published by the World Economic Forum.
As noted in the report, decisions on how to deploy the post-COVID crisis stimulus packages will likely shape societies and economies for decades. Many countries have already made significant strides in rebuilding their economies with a focus on green recovery to stimulate jobs, income and sustainable growth. But this work can and should be scaled up.
"Now is the time to step up and commit to conserving and restoring biodiversity. Otherwise, we will continue to feel the impacts of climate change, pollution and pandemics." @BoccucciMario
We need ambitious, clear and shared commitments to implement. We need financing, capacity development, transparency and accountability. We need buy-in from all sectors, including agriculture, business and finance. While the immediate priority is to tackle the global health emergency, a long-term response must deal with biodiversity loss and climate change to prevent further outbreaks.
This week’s UN Biodiversity Summit presents a key moment for heads of state and government to scale up efforts to halt and reverse deforestation. The recovery must be green and sustainable, or we will face these same issues over and over again.
The urgency with which governments around the world acted in response to the pandemic shows that a response to the climate emergency could be equally swift and decisive. Forests are our best ally in the fight against future pandemics. Separating health and economics from environmental policy is a dangerous delusion.
Saving and restoring our forests will deliver jobs, improve livelihoods, contribute to the climate change response, all while reducing the risk of future pandemics.