How can nature help prevent future pandemics?

It starts with stopping the destruction of forests and the illegal wildlife trade. Protecting nature is key for a healthy future.


We’ve long known that human health and environmental health are inextricably linked. Now, science is increasingly showing us that the destruction of nature has a direct role in outbreaks of disease.


Protect nature, prevent pandemic

© Trond Larsen

Most newly emerging infectious diseases originate from animals. Changes in the way land is used — particularly deforestation — play a major role in transmitting them to people, research shows. As the global commercial wildlife trade persists and humans continue to encroach deeper into forests, there are more opportunities for pathogens to spread from animals to humans — a process known as “zoonotic spillover.”

Protecting nature is critical to preventing future pandemics. Ecosystems function similarly to the human body: When they are healthy, they are more resistant to disease. But when forests and other natural ecosystems are destroyed or degraded for agriculture, cattle ranching, urban development and other activities, sick and stressed wildlife are forced into closer contact with farmed animals and people. This creates the conditions for diseases to spread quickly.

Moreover, experts expect climate change to exacerbate the emergence of infectious diseases, as warming weather shifts the distribution of animals that can spread infectious diseases.


Investing in nature yields significant returns

A pandemic such as COVID-19 costs millions of lives and trillions of dollars. For just a fraction of that amount — approximately US$20 billion per year — the world could significantly reduce the emergence of new infectious diseases and save countless lives, according to a study co-authored by Conservation International scientists.



Funding would support four pandemic prevention strategies:

Promoting the health and economic security of people living in emerging infectious disease hotspots
Reducing deforestation
Regulating commercial wildlife markets and trade
Improving infection control practices in animal husbandry


Despite studies revealing that many pandemics are fueled by the destruction of nature — including seminal research by Conservation International — sufficient action has not been taken to mitigate future pandemics by protecting high-risk ecosystems. From working with governments to reduce deforestation and strengthen their biodiversity conservation laws, to supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities in their efforts to manage their territories, Conservation International is helping to prevent pandemics by addressing some of the key drivers that cause the emergence of infectious diseases.


How can we prevent future pandemics? It starts with stopping the destruction of forests and the illegal wildlife trade. Protecting nature is key for a healthy future.


News and science


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