Future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases, warns a major new report on biodiversity and pandemics by 22 leading experts from around the world.
Convened by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) for an urgent virtual workshop about the links between degradation of nature and increasing pandemic risks, the experts agree that escaping the era of pandemics is possible, but that this will require a seismic shift in approach from reaction to prevention.
Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spillover of new diseases, says the report.
Some key points from the report
- The risk of pandemics is increasing rapidly, with more than five new diseases emerging in people every year, any one of which has the potential to spread and become pandemic. The risk of a pandemic is driven by exponentially increasing anthropogenic changes.
- The cost of the COVID-19 pandemic has been estimated at US$8-16 trillion globally by July 2020 and may be US$16 trillion in the US alone by the 4th quarter of 2021 (assuming vaccines are effective at controlling it by then)
- Human ecological disruption, and unsustainable consumption drive pandemic risk, with unsustainable exploitation of the environment, climate change and biodiversity loss implicated
- Reducing anthropogenic global environmental change may reduce pandemic risk, by promoting responsible consumption, reducing unsustainable consumption, reducing excessive consumption of meat from livestock production – and by conservation of protected areas, and other measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions.
- Land-use change, agricultural expansion, and urbanization cause more than 30% of emerging disease events. Ecological restoration, which is critical for conservation, climate adaptation and provision of ecosystem services, should integrate health considerations to avoid potential increased disease risk resulting from increased human-livestock-wildlife contact.
- The trade and consumption of wildlife is a globally important risk for future pandemics. Wildlife farming has expanded substantially, and the farming, trade and consumption of wildlife and wildlife-derived products (for food, medicine, fur and other products) have led to biodiversity loss, and emerging diseases, including SARS and COVID-19.
- Current pandemic preparedness strategies aim to control diseases after they emerge, when policy options that foster transformative change towards preventing pandemics are needed. The research reviewed in the report identifies substantial knowledge that provides a pathway to predicting and preventing pandemics.