The world is in an “era of pandemics” and unless the destruction of the natural world is stopped, they will emerge more often, spread faster, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact than ever before. , according to a report from some of the world’s top scientists.
The emergence of diseases such as Covid-19, bird flu and HIV in animals has been driven entirely by the razing of wild places for agriculture and the wildlife trade, which has brought people in contact with dangerous germs, experts said.
“The risk of a pandemic is increasing rapidly, with more than five new diseases emerging each year, each of which has the potential to become pandemic,” the report says.
He estimates that there are more than 500,000 unknown viruses in mammals and birds that could infect humans.
The current approach to disease outbreaks tries to contain them and develop treatments or vaccines, which scientists call “slow and uncertain”. Instead, we need to tackle the root causes, including stopping the demolition of forests to produce meat, palm oil, metals and other products for richer countries.
The costs of such a transformative change would be “insignificant”, experts have found, compared to the billions of dollars in damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic alone. The proposed solutions include a global surveillance network, taxing damaging meat production and ending taxpayer subsidies that ravage the natural world.
“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic, or of any modern pandemic,” said Peter Daszak, chairman of the group convened by the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Services (Ipbes) to produce the report. “The same human activities that lead to climate change and loss of biodiversity also lead to the risk of a pandemic through their impacts on our environment.”
“We see pandemics every 20 to 30 years,” said Daszak, who is also the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, and they were becoming more frequent and damaging. “We can escape the era of pandemics, but it requires a much greater focus on prevention, in addition to reaction.”
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN, the World Health Organization and others have warned that the world must tackle the cause of these epidemics and not just the health and economic symptoms. In June, leading experts called the pandemic an “SOS signal for human enterprise,” but little government action was taken.
The report was produced by 22 experts in fields such as zoology, public health, economics and law, and representing all continents. He cites more than 600 studies, a third of which have been published since 2019. “It’s really a state of the art in terms of a scientific basis,” said Anne Larigauderie, Ipbes’ executive secretary.
The report states that the increase in emerging diseases is due to “the recent exponential increase in consumption and trade, driven by demand in developed countries and emerging economies, as well as by [rising population] pression ».
Daszak added: “Clearly, in the face of Covid-19, with over a million human deaths and huge economic impacts, [the current] the reactive approach is inadequate. There is enough science that shows a way forward and would involve transformative change that rethinks our relationship with nature.
Scientists call for the creation of a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention to provide policymakers with the best evidence, predict high-risk areas and coordinate the design of a global disease surveillance system.
High-risk species, such as bats, rodents, primates and waterfowl, should be removed from the $ 100 billion a year legal wildlife trade, they said, and there must be a crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade.
They also said the risk of emerging disease should be factored into decisions on major developments and called for taxation of meat production. “Meat consumption is increasing so dramatically and it is so clearly associated with pandemics,” Daszak said.
“Many of these policies can seem expensive and difficult to implement,” the report says. “However, economic analysis suggests their costs [of about $50bn a year] will be insignificant compared to the billions of dollars in impact from Covid-19, let alone the rising tide of future illnesses.
Daszak said: “For each of the policies, there are pilot studies that show that they work – they just need to be expanded and taken seriously. It’s classic public health – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The report was very well received by other experts. Guy Poppy, professor of ecology at the University of Southampton, said the comprehensive analysis of the report’s solutions was valuable. “The link between planetary health and human health was already increasingly recognized, but Covid-19 brought it to everyone’s mind,” he said.
Professor John Spicer, marine zoologist at the University of Plymouth, said: “The Covid-19 crisis is not just another crisis alongside the biodiversity crisis and the climate change crisis. Make no mistake, this is a great crisis – the most severe that humans have ever known.
But he said that by proposing solutions, the report “is a document of hope, not of despair … the question is not whether we [act], but will we?