New WWF report links destruction of nature to pandemics and calls for urgent global action

written by Oceanographic Staff

The WWF has put out an urgent call for global action to address the key drivers it has identified which will cause future zoonotic disease pandemics.

A new report details how the environmental factors driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases are: the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production.

WWF report

“We must urgently recognise the links between the destruction of nature and human health, or we will soon see the next pandemic,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “We must curb the high-risk trade and consumption of wildlife, halt deforestation and land conversion as well as manage food production sustainably. All these actions will help prevent the spill over of pathogens to humans, and also address other global risks to our society like biodiversity loss and climate change. There is no debate, and the science is clear; we must work with nature, not against it. Unsustainable exploitation of nature has become an enormous risk to us all.”

The WWF report outlines how 60-70% of the new diseases that have emerged in humans since 1990 came from wildlife. During the same time period, 178m hectares of forest have been cleared, the equivalent to more than seven times the area of the UK.

The WWF has stated that the warning signs were clear for years, and numerous warnings from scientists and experts have been made about the risk of a global pandemic. The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked pandemics and infectious diseases among the top global risks more than 10 years ago, stating that they confirm ‘an acute threat to human life’. Leading biodiversity experts saying even more deadly disease outbreaks are likely in the future if the rampant destruction of the natural world is not rapidly stopped.

WWF report

Though there are still uncertainties about the precise origins of COVID-19, all available evidence suggests that it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from wildlife to humans. A ban on the consumption of wild animals was announced by the Chinese government on February 24, and there are more plans to revise existing laws on the protection of wildlife in the country. Moves to close high-risk wildlife markets and to end the wildlife trade global must be taken by all governmental bodies.

The WWF notes that the global food system needs to be reformed due to its unsustainable expansion. The current system drives large-scale conversion of natural spaces for destructive agriculture, fragmenting natural ecosystems and increasing interactions between wildlife, livestock and humans.

“In the midst of this tragedy there is an opportunity to heal our relationship with nature and mitigate risks of future pandemics but a better future starts with the decisions governments, companies and people around the world take today.” said Lambertini. “World leaders must take urgent action to transform our relationship with the natural world. We need a New Deal for Nature and People that sets nature on the path to recovery by 2030 and safeguards human health and livelihoods in the long-term.”

In a joint piece written for the Guardian by Lambertini, alongside Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, head of the UN convention on biological diversity, Maria Neira, the World Health Organization director for environment and health, they wrote: “We must embrace a just, healthy and green recovery and kickstart a wider transformation towards a model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society. Not doing so, and instead attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems, and social safety nets, has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over.”

To read the full report, ‘COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature’, click here.

First photograph by Oton Barros, courtesy of Coordenação-Geral de Observação da Terra/INPE; Second photography by  Maximilian Hirschfeld, courtesy of the Coral Reef Image Bank. 

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here or on one of the images below:

Current issue

Back issues

Enjoy so much more from Oceanographic Magazine by becoming a subscriber.
A range of subscription options are available.