To prevent the next pandemic, governments must protect nature, according to a report released yesterday.
The report, issued by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), echoes the findings of a recent study co-authored by Conservation International scientists. Published in the journal Nature in July, that study found that reducing deforestation, restricting the global wildlife trade and monitoring the emergence of new viruses before they spread could drastically reduce the risk of another pandemic — at a fraction of the cost of coronavirus response efforts to date.
“The science is not in dispute at all about this,” said Conservation International scientist Lee Hannah — a co-author of the Nature study and a peer reviewer of the IPBES report — to National Geographic. “Deforestation is a prime driver of pandemics.”
In the past century, two new animal-borne viruses have emerged from nature every year; these numbers are expected to skyrocket over the next decade — which many scientists have now dubbed “the Pandemic Era.”
The cause, they say: Human activities such as development and agricultural expansion are encroaching deeper into undisturbed forests, exposing more humans to wildlife — and the diseases they may carry.
According to both the report and Hannah’s recent research, preventing these human-wildlife interactions by expanding protected areas and ramping up wildlife conservation efforts is critical to avoiding future outbreaks of “zoonotic” diseases (diseases that spread from animals to humans).
“I think the really important thing is understanding the scale at which we have to operate here,” Hannah told National Geographic. “This isn’t about pumping things up a notch; this is about taking things to a level they’ve never been taken before. There’s a selfish reason to do this, which is protecting ourselves.”
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