Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
A recent body of research suggests that the climate crisis could increase the frequency of animal-borne diseases.
The Story: Experts agree that climate change is expanding the geographic range of animals and insects that commonly carry diseases — and it could also decrease the effectiveness of the human body’s immune system defenses, reported Sara Goudarzi for Scientific American. Most diseases cannot survive at normal human body temperatures, but scientists project that viruses could become more heat resistant as they adapt to higher outside temperatures caused by climate change. Additionally, recent research indicates that animals are moving toward the north and south poles to escape the heat as the climate warms, which could increase human’s exposure to wildlife — and the diseases they may carry.
The Big Picture: “From a public health perspective, the climate crisis is increasing the spread of certain diseases and complicating efforts to combat others,” said Conservation International’s Senior Climate Change Scientist Lee Hannah in a recent interview with Conservation News. “To prevent this, we must work to stop climate breakdown and give nature the space it needs to adapt naturally to the impacts we can no longer prevent.” By reducing deforestation and creating protected areas and national parks, countries can help decrease carbon emissions, while limiting human-wildlife interactions that could spread disease.
Countries must include climate action in their economic recovery plans, says Germany’s leader.
The Story: At a recent online international summit called the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged governments across the globe to include climate action in their coronavirus fiscal stimulus packages, reported Michael Nianaber and Markus Wacket for Reuters. Environmental ministers from 30 countries convened for this online conference to discuss how to address climate change in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with including climate action in economic recovery, Merkel and several other European leaders supported a new goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union by up to 55 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
The Big Picture: “We know public and economic health are linked to the health of our planet,” said Herbert Lust, Conservation International’s vice president and managing director for Europe, in a recent statement. “Thus, it is urgent that we rethink our relationship with nature and invest in smart solutions as we navigate an uncertain economic future and recover from the current pandemic.” To reach their climate goals, governments must support natural climate solutions, says Lust, such as reforestation projects or restoring mangroves. Including nature protection in COVID-19 stimulus responses could also help prevent future pandemics by limiting peoples’ exposure to animal-borne diseases, he added.
A suburb in Costa Rica is minimizing its impact on nature through innovative conservation initiatives and green infrastructure.
The Story: Following its decision to give bees, plants and trees citizenship more than a decade ago, a suburb of San José, Costa Rica, called Curridabat has created several green conservation spaces and biocorridors — bridges to connect wildlife populations that are separated by human activities, reported Patrick Greenfield for The Guardian. These biocorridors — a type of green infrastructure — have enabled species such as jaguars to interact with other populations within their species, increasing the genetic diversity of wildlife while improving air and water quality in the city.
The Big Picture: “The idea came from a narrative that people in cities are prone to defending nature when it is far away … but they are negligent when it comes to protecting nature in their immediate environment,” said Edgar Mora, mayor of Curridabat. According to a recent UN study, urban development is one of the leading drivers of global biodiversity loss. Research projects that nearly 70 percent of humanity will live in towns and cities by 2050, and experts agree that governments must minimize the impact of development on forests and wildlife through green infrastructure such as biocorridors and green spaces.
A new report shows that global emissions are likely to drop by nearly 8 percent this year, but scientists project they could surge to unprecedented levels once countries restart their economies.
Cover image: Trees in Costa Rica (© Conservation International/Ashton Jones)