Combatting deforestation and wildlife trade could avoid costing the planet trillions of dollars in economic disruption, Conservation International estimates
Funding efforts to combat deforestation, risky wildlife trade and nature protection today could save governments hundreds of billions of dollars in the long run by preventing major environmental and public health risks, potentially even helping avoid the next global pandemic, new research suggests.
A study published today by scientists from US non-profit Conservation International argues governments should prioritise nature-based pandemic prevention measures in their Covid-19 recovery packages, claiming this would be a hugely cost-effective investment towards preventing future animal-transmitted disease outbreaks and the resulting economic havoc they cause.
While the Covid-19 crisis is expected to set back the global economy by as much as $5.6tn, a much smaller cumulative global investment of between $22.3bn to $30.1bn per year over the next decade could significantly curb the risk of future pandemics, claims the study, which was published in the academic journal Science.
"If we invest in prevention, the savings in lives and cost are tremendous," explained Lee Hannah, senior scientist at Conservation International. "Our research suggests that a 10-year investment on the order of $300bn could make a big difference in reducing the probability of the next pandemic. We don't want to go through this again, so we need to act now to reduce the factors that lead to pandemics."
Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it originated in wildlife before making the jump to humans, and Conservation International warns future outbreaks are inevitable if the ongoing degradation of tropical forests and the illegal wildlife trade are left unchecked.
"Just 10 per cent of tropical forests hold more than half of the global risk for zoonotic disease spillover from nature to humans," warned Patrick Roehdanz, manager for Conservation International's Spatial Planning for Area Conservation (SPARC) programme. "An upfront investment in reducing tropical deforestation now could save us billions of dollars down the line by preventing the next pandemic."
As such, the non-profit is urging governments to channel money into preventing deforestation as part of their Covid-19 recovery packages. An investment of $9.6bn in direct forest-protection payments could reduce the chance of disease spillover by up to 40 per cent, it said.
Governments should also give more powers to wildlife trade enforcement agencies to help clamp down on illegal trade of disease-risk animals, and funnel investment towards improving veterinary practices and establishing early detection measures that can contain outbreaks, it recommends.
However, it warned that in the wake of Covid-19, many countries around the world have in fact rolled back their environmental protections, despite clear calls from the United Nations, the International Energy Agency and environmental groups for governments to place nature-based solutions and afforestation efforts at the heart of their recovery efforts.
But with the coronavirus crisis having drawn much wider attention to the relationship between environmental risks, public health and economy, there are growing signs of effort being made to address such problems. Earlier this week a new Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures was launched by a raft of major financial instiutions to help develop guidelines aimed at improving measurement and reporting of environmental risk, while just today a "rigorous" standards benchmark was announced to help organisations design effective tree planting, coastal resortation and nature protection projects.
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