UN report links biodiversity loss with spread of diseases

The report notes the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change, and long-term food security, and concludes that action to protect biodiversity is essential to prevent future pandemics. — Courtesy photo
The report notes the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change, and long-term food security, and concludes that action to protect biodiversity is essential to prevent future pandemics. — Courtesy photo

NEW YORK — The continued degradation of the environment is increasing the likelihood of diseases spreading from animals to humans, warns a UN report on biodiversity, released on Tuesday.

The fifth edition of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook report, published by the Convention of Biological Diversity, provides an authoritative overview of the state of nature worldwide.

The report notes the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change, and long-term food security, and concludes that action to protect biodiversity is essential to prevent future pandemics.

The study acts as a wake-up call, and an encouragement to consider the dangers involved in mankind’s current relationship with nature: continued biodiversity loss, and the ongoing degradation of ecosystems, are having profound consequences of human wellbeing and survival.

“As nature degrades,” said Maruma Mrema, executive director of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.”

This year’s study is considered to be particularly significant because it serves as a “final report card” for the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a series of 20 objectives set out in 2010, at the beginning of the UN’s Decade on Biodiversity, most of which were supposed to be reached by the end of this year.

However, none of the targets — which concern the safeguarding of ecosystems, and the promotion of sustainability — have been fully met, and only six are deemed to have been “partially achieved”.

“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”, said Ms. Mrema, “and the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security, and prosperity.”

Although the lack of success in meeting the targets is a cause for concern, the authors of the Outlook are at pains to stress that virtually all countries are now taking some steps to protect biodiversity, without which the state of the world’s biodiversity would be considerably worse.

The bright spots include falling rates of deforestation, the eradication of invasive alien species from more islands, and raised awareness of biodiversity and its importance overall.

However, this encouraging progress can’t mask the fact that the natural world is suffering badly, and that the situation is getting worse. Financing is a case in point: funding for actions linked to biodiversity has been estimated at between $78-$91 billion per year, way below the hundreds of billions needed.

And this figure is dwarfed by the amount of money spent on activities that are harmful to biodiversity, including some $500 billion for fossil fuels, and other subsidies that cause environmental degradation. — UN news