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27 April 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Worse pandemics on horizon unless world leaders protect nature, experts say

By Samuel Horti

The coronavirus crisis will be followed by pandemics “that happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people” unless politicians adopt new measures to protect the natural world, leading biodiversity experts have said.

Deforestation, intensive farming, urbanisation and the growth of global air travel have created a “perfect storm” for pandemics, and allowed the coronavirus to spread across the world, they said. “This is the human hand in pandemic emergence. Yet [Covid-19] may be only the beginning.”

The warning comes from Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz and Eduardo Brondizio, who led a review of the health of our planet for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an organisation set up by the United Nations, in 2019.

In an article published today and co-written by the three experts and Dr Peter Daszak, who is leading the next IPBES review, they warned: “There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us… Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.”

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Government funds designed to support failing economies must also strengthen environmental protection, they said. “It may be politically expedient to relax environmental standards and to prop up industries such as intensive agriculture, airlines, and fossil-fuel-dependent energy sectors, but doing so without requiring urgent and fundamental change essentially subsidises the emergence of future pandemics.”