Pandemic response must put nature first

Stimulus measures to aid the recovery from Covid-19 must safeguard nature to reduce the risk of future pandemics, according to leading scientists.

In an article published this week by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), four eminent professors in the field of biodiversity and ecosystems wrote that “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”.

Humans, they wrote, were the single species responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. “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 scientists identified three considerations that should be part of the global recovery: the strengthening and enforcement of environmental regulations including only deploying stimulus packages that offer incentives for more sustainable and nature-positive activities. A ‘one health’ approach at all levels of decision-making whereby decisions are made that take into account long-term costs and consequences of development actions – for people and nature. And proper funding and resourcing of health systems.

Three of the authors were co-chairs on last year’s IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services which found that 1m species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction within a decade and called for fundamental, system-wide changes to protect nature and promote social and environmental responsibilities across all sectors.

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