Escaping The Era Of Pandemics
- On 29th October, 2020, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report which warns 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.
Pandemics Emerge from the Microbial Diversity Found in Nature
- The majority (70%) of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis), and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19), are zoonoses – i.e. are caused by microbes of animal origin. These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people.
Human Ecological Disruption, and Unsustainable Consumption Drive Pandemic Risk
- 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.
- Unsustainable exploitation of the environment due to land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, wildlife trade and consumption disrupts natural interactions among wildlife and their microbes, increases contact among wildlife, livestock, people, and their pathogens and has led to almost all pandemics.
- Pathogens of wildlife, livestock and people can also directly threaten biodiversity, and emerge via the same activities that drive disease risk in people.
Reducing Anthropogenic Global Environmental Change May Reduce Pandemic Risk
- Pandemics and other emerging zoonoses cause widespread human suffering, and likely more than a trillion dollars in economic damages annually.
- The true impact of COVID-19 on the global economy can only be accurately assessed once vaccines are fully deployed and transmission among populations is contained.
- Pandemic risk could be significantly lowered by promoting responsible consumption and reducing unsustainable consumption of commodities from emerging disease hotspots, and of wildlife and wildlife-derived products, as well as by reducing excessive consumption of meat from livestock production.
Land-Use Change, Agricultural Expansion, Urbanization Cause More than 30% of Emerging Disease Events
- Land-use change is a globally significant driver of pandemics and caused the emergence of more than 30% of new diseases reported since 1960.
- Land-use change includes deforestation, human settlement in primarily wildlife habitat, the growth of crop and livestock production, and urbanization.
- Destruction of habitat and encroachment of humans and livestock into bio-diverse habitats provide new pathways for pathogens to spill over and increase transmission rates.
Trade and Consumption of Wildlife is a Globally Important Risk for Future Pandemics
- Wildlife trade has occurred throughout human history and provides nutrition and welfare for peoples, especially the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in many countries.
- About 24% of all wild terrestrial vertebrate species are traded globally.
- International, legal wildlife trade has increased more than five-fold in value in the last 14 years and was estimated to be worth US$107 billion in 2019.
- The USA is one of the largest legal importers of wildlife with 10-20 million individual wild animals (terrestrial and marine) imported each year, largely for the pet trade.
- Illegal and unregulated trade and unsustainable consumption of wildlife as well as the legal, regulated trade in wildlife, have been linked to disease emergence.
The report offers following policy options that would help to reduce and address pandemic risk:
- Launching a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention to provide decision-makers with the best science and evidence on emerging diseases; predict high-risk areas; evaluate the economic impact of potential pandemics and to highlight research gaps. Such a council could also coordinate the design of a global monitoring framework.
- Countries setting mutually-agreed goals or targets within the framework of an international accord or agreement – with clear benefits for people, animals and the environment.
- Institutionalizing the ‘One Health’ approach in national governments to build pandemic preparedness, enhance pandemic prevention programs, and to investigate and control outbreaks across sectors.
- Developing and incorporating pandemic and emerging disease risk health impact assessments in major development and land-use projects, while reforming financial aid for land-use so that benefits and risks to biodiversity and health are recognized and explicitly targeted.
- Ensuring that the economic cost of pandemics is factored into consumption, production, and government policies and budgets.
- Enabling changes to reduce the types of consumption, globalized agricultural expansion and trade that have led to pandemics – this could include taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production and other forms of high pandemic-risk activities.
- Reducing zoonotic disease risks in the international wildlife trade through a new intergovernmental ‘health and trade’ partnership; reducing or removing high disease-risk species in the wildlife trade; enhancing law enforcement in all aspects of the illegal wildlife trade and improving community education in disease hotspots about the health risks of wildlife trade.
- Valuing Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ engagement and knowledge in pandemic prevention programs, achieving greater food security, and reducing consumption of wildlife.
- Closing critical knowledge gaps such as those about key risk behaviors, the relative importance of illegal, unregulated, and the legal and regulated wildlife trade in disease risk, and improving understanding of the relationship between ecosystem degradation and restoration, landscape structure and the risk of disease emergence.
- The report is published at a critical juncture in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, at whichits long-term societal and economic impacts are being recognized.
- It provides yet another piece of scientific evidence that our health and society are seriously endangered by the disruption of nature as a result of factory farming, global free trade, and the current system based on unlimited economic growth
- This report embraces the need for transformative change and uses scientific evidence to identify policy options to prevent pandemics.
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)