Animal origins of COVID-19 remind us that biodiversity and wildlife are disappearing at an alarming rate

Over the past 50 years, the Earth has been transformed by an explosion in global trade, consumption, and human population growth, which has fostered urbanization and lifted many people out of poverty.

But progress comes at a cost: a dangerous loss of biodiversity and the depletion of the animal kingdom. That loss ultimately comes at a human cost, as the dominant headlines of 2020 now attest to: wildfires, locust plagues and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Living Planet Index, which tracks some 4,000 vertebrate species, suggests that increased deforestation and agricultural expansion were the main drivers of an average 68% decline in animal populations between 1970 and 2016. Living Planet Report 2020, a collaboration between World Wildlife Fund International and the Zoological Society of London, is the 13th edition of the biennial publication that tracks wildlife populations around the world.

World Wildlife Fund International and Zoological Society of London

The links between biodiversity and health are diverse, from traditional medicines and pharmaceuticals derived from plants to water filtration by wetlands. The main benefits are derived from a separate habitat separation between wildlife and humans to contain the spread of disease. In addition, biodiversity will be the key to feeding the planet of tomorrow.

Until 1970, the human ecological footprint was less than the Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources, but WWF now calculates that humanity is over-exploiting the planet’s capacity by more than half. Factors impacting regeneration include invasive species and pollution, but the main driver of wildlife loss is changes in land use, such as forests or grasslands converted to farms, the researchers say. In the ocean, 75% of fish stocks are overexploited, according to the index.

COVID-19 connection

Person-to-person infection is the root cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, most researchers say, sparking growing concern that loss of biodiversity is leading to a clash between humans and animals that can have dire consequences.

“COVID-19 is nature sending us a message. In fact, it reads like an SOS signal for human enterprise, highlighting the need to live in the “safe operating space” of the planet. The environmental, health and economic consequences of not doing so are dire, ”the scientists warned in the summary of their report.

World Wildlife Fund International and Zoological Society of London

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals. Most scientists see a link between deforestation / habitat change and pandemics, while cultural cuisine choices, Chinese wet markets for example, also featured in the discussion.

Regional differences are worth noting. The index shows that the tropics of Central and South America have experienced a 94% decline in species since 1970.

There is a chance of a reversal, however, if action is taken.

The scientific groups are well on their way to a program they have designed to “bend the curve” to limit biodiversity and species loss:

1. An increased conservation effort scenario that has included an increase in the extent and management of protected areas, and increased planning for restoration and conservation at the landscape level;

2. The more sustainable production scenario (supply side efforts) comprising higher and more sustainable increases in both agricultural productivity and trade in agricultural products;

3. The more sustainable consumption scenario (demand side efforts) focused on reducing agricultural waste from field to fork and a diet shift towards a lower share of animal calories in high consumption countries. meat.

Scientists also pointed to the increased impact of combining these efforts, with likely much larger results.

“Bending the Curve modeling tells us that with transformational change, we can turn the tide of biodiversity loss. It’s easy to talk about transformational change, but how do we, living in our complex and highly connected modern society, make it a reality? We know it will take a global and collective effort; that increased conservation efforts are essential, as well as changes in the way we produce and consume our food and energy, ”said WWF and the Zoological Society of London. “Citizens, governments and business leaders around the world will need to be part of a movement for change of scale, urgency and ambition never seen before. “

World Wildlife Fund International and Zoological Society of London

The United States, Russia and China among the nations named in the lead

In separate researchArizona State University Greg Asner and conservation biologist and strategist Eric Dinerstein and colleagues suggest that action by key industrial and industrialized areas could be vital in strengthening all of Earth’s biodiversity.

By setting aside half of the Earth’s land for nature, nations can save our planet’s rich biodiversity, prevent future pandemics, and meet the Paris climate target of keeping warming this century below less than 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), they suggest.

To achieve these goals, 20 countries must contribute disproportionately. Much of the responsibility lies with Russia, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Australia and China.

Why? Because these countries contain vast tracts of land needed to achieve the dual goals of reducing climate change and preserving biodiversity, the scientists said.

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