Choose nature-friendly policies

May 22, 2020by

WHILE saving human lives and re-booting the economy are two utmost priorities for governments to consider when developing their post-Covid-19 Stimulus Package, they must not forget Nature.

After all, the root cause of those zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19 is the destruction of wildlife habitats, a fact endorsed by most of the scientific community. Meaning, our human activity facilitated the virus’ jump from wildlife to us. And, as we contemplate the post-pandemic world to come, the voices of scientists need to be heard far and wide.

“The process that leads a microbe, such as a virus, from a population of vertebrates such as bats to humans is complex, but driven by people,” says Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the panel of UN experts on biodiversity.

“The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history, and the most important direct driver of change in nature is land use change,” she adds. This message was reinforced recently by four renowned IPBES-affiliated experts: Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Peter Daszak.

In an eloquent commentary, they suggested that post Covid-19 stimulus measures “must save lives, protect livelihoods, and safeguard Nature to reduce the risk of future pandemics.”

“There is a single species that is responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic — us. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones,” they said.

They argued that government stimulus plans needed to include sustainable and nature-positive initiatives.

“It may be politically expedient at this time to relax environmental standards and to prop up industries such as intensive agriculture, long-distance transportation such as the airlines, and fossil-fuel-dependent energy sectors, but doing so without requiring urgent and fundamental change, essentially subsidizes the emergence of future pandemics.”

Three of the commentary’s authors — Settele, Díaz, and Brondizio — also led the comprehensive 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which found that one million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction within decades.

They warned that 1.7 million unidentified viruses known to infect people are estimated to exist in mammals and water birds.

Any one of these may be more disruptive and lethal than Covid-19. With that in mind, the authors recommend three essential considerations for Covid-19-related stimulus plans.

Countries should a) streng-then environmental regulations; b) adopt a ‘One Health’ approach to decision-making that recognises complex interconnections among the health of people, animals, plants, and our shared environment; and c) prop up healthcare systems in the most vulnerable countries where resources are strained and underfunded.

“This is not simple altruism,” they argued.

“It is vital investment in the interests of all to prevent future global outbreaks. The programmes required will cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

“But, if you get one pandemic, even just one a century, that costs trillions, so you still come out with an incredibly good return on investment.

“Business as usual will not work. Business as usual right now for pandemics is waiting for them to emerge and hoping for a vaccine. That’s not a good strategy. We need to deal with the underlying drivers.”

The authors contend that the world could build back better and emerge from the current crisis stronger and more resilient than ever, “but to do so means choosing policies and actions that protect nature, so that nature can help to protect us.”

That compelling narrative underlines the urgent necessity to support the Campaign for Nature, launched in 2018 by the Wyss Foundation and National Geographic Society to set aside 30 per cent of the Earth surface as protected areas by 2030. Habitat loss is widely regarded as the world’s top cause of species extinction. To save those species, their homes and those of other species on which they depend must be protected — and quickly.

“Every year we wait, we put more species in peril,” says Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, who advocates globally for more conservation areas.

The writer is the founding chair of IPBES, and ambassador and science adviser to the Campaign for Nature

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/05/591721/choose-nature-friendly-policies

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