The climate and biodiversity crises are presenting unprecedented global health risks that need to be urgently addressed, argue conservationists including Dr Charlie Gardner from Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE).
However, they warn that the economic impacts of COVID-19 may reduce society’s willingness to tackle environmental issues, increasing the risk of future pandemics.
In a letter to Global Change Biology’s Editor, Dr Gardner, alongside Dr Javid Kavousi of the Université de Bretagne Occidentale and other researchers, warns that further environmental degradation will increase the risks of zoonotic disease transmission from wild animals to humans through habitat encroachment and increasing contact with wild animals.
Climate change will make matters worse, increasing disease transmission as species shift their distributions across the planet, and worsening climate-related events, such as droughts and other extreme weather, which will reduce human capacity to prevent and manage outbreaks such as COVID-19.
The researchers worry that the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic will alter societal and political priorities across the world and conservation funding will face drastic cuts. Conservation largely relies on public spending and philanthropy, but with the global economy rocked by unemployment, healthcare costs and private sector bailouts, considerations towards its funding will likely be overshadowed.
The article stresses that conservationists need to continue to highlight the value of conservation and communicate its critical role in maintaining functioning ecosystems and thus human civilisation. This could mean a change in conservation objectives, from the current goal of fighting the extinction of endangered species, to maintaining a functioning biosphere that can support human wellbeing around the world.
Dr Gardner said: ‘Human activities have affected the world so dramatically and we are seeing many repercussions as a result. If we can engage people around the world to understand that with climate and biodiversity crises come a bigger threat to global health, we can open eyes to where essential funding is needed to save our planet. Conservation may require a refocus in research, messaging and investment but it ultimately must adapt to stay relevant in a world that has been completely changed by COVID-19’.
The article, ‘Conservation needs to evolve to survive in the post-pandemic world’ is published by Global Change Biology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15197