The massive COVID-19 tragedy unfolding in India is another awakening of the need to address the underlying causes of zoonotic diseases and promote prevention, through conservation, not just a focus on public health and economic mitigation measures. However, international conservation efforts since COVID-19 began devastating the world have been unjustifiably insufficient.
The WHO report on the origins of COVID-19 is Disappointing and surrounded by questions China’s devotion to transparency and truth. It also risks being a burden on global efforts to prevent future pandemics. The report’s conclusion that the first cases of Covid-19 may have occurred on wildlife farms in China, focusing the world’s attention on an isolated public health challenge that Beijing has already worked to address. World leaders should not lose sight of the need for China and other countries to reduce the chance of future disease outbreaks by improving their environmental stewardship on a large scale and substantially.
Covid-19 is not an isolated event that occurs once in every 100 years. Zoonotic diseases transmitted from animals to humans appear with presence Increasing speed every few years. Between SARS in 2002 and COVID-19, there have been epidemics of MERS, Ebola, Zika, and bird and swine flu. Another global crisis, triggered by zoonotic diseases, could easily erupt in the coming years.
Our destruction of nature is at the root of these crises. When animal species are pushed into smaller and smaller spaces, such as deforestation, they transmit pathogens to one another, and then to humans, livestock, and pets. This potentially catastrophic cycle It accounts for 30 percent of startups Zoonotic diseases.
Wildlife trafficking increases the risk. The illegal trade in species such as pangolins can create a very high speed route for infection from Africa to East Asia and beyond.
As wildlife was an early vector for Covid-19, China closed 12,000 wildlife farms in the immediate aftermath of the Wuhan outbreak. It also banned the consumption of wild animal meat.
These procedures are very important. Beijing has committed to improving it Practices And to them Mandatory. But implementation must be closely monitored in a country where civil society is suppressed, and accountability and oversight is minimal Often vested interests undermine the organizationChina should say less and show more at home and abroad.
Moreover, China must address its other roles in destroying the environment and spreading zoonotic diseases.
Still China The main driver of deforestation in Africa And other parts of the world, including the tropics, are full of zoonotic disease risks. China also continues The world’s number one destination for wildlife traffickingAnd the According to the United Nations. To add to the challenge, is the use of wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine Supported by the Chinese High Command, They are now encouraged to go global and be marketed under what is called Silk health Way.
One way forward in China is to forgive it from sovereign debt in exchange for commitments to preserve large swaths of intact forests. these Debt burdens It could push countries towards unsustainable and environmentally destructive extraction of primary commodities, including increased rates of deforestation. China’s voracious appetite for timber led to deforestation even before debt diplomacy became a major feature of its foreign policy.
But preventing future epidemics is not only China’s responsibility. The United States is also a creditor of countries where zoonotic diseases are likely to emerge. Both countries should explore debt swaps in nature as a potential area of cooperation. Doing so will position both countries as an enabler for Green Global Recovery.
The United States should also consider how its economic relationship with China has helped cause environmental devastation. For example, while Chinese companies register tropical forests, US consumers are the largest market for Chinese furniture and other products made from tropical hardwoods.
Decreasing US demand for products made from tropical hardwoods is essential to maintaining the integrity of tropical ecosystems and reducing the risk of epidemics. Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have reduced US demand for these products by an amount 40 percent. With the Biden administration considering whether or not to keep the Trump definitions, it must balance the positive consequences, if unintended, for the environment and public health of doing so.
The United States should also address its status as a major destination for wildlife trafficking and the fact that it has many species Legally imported In the United States, pathogens are not monitored. Prohibition of the import, sale and consumption of high-risk wildlife, such as those stipulated in The Future Epidemic Prevention Act of 2020, Is a step in the right direction.
Universally, Big improvements To legal trade in wildlife and cultivation of wildlife is imperative, along the lines of and overtaking China, moving from close surveillance to no pathogen to strong surveillance and better veterinary practices. The dangerous wildlife markets that still exist around the world, as in Indonesia, must adopt strict public veterinary and health regulations or be closed. Their closure, as well as the sustainable suppression of illegal hunting and wildlife trafficking, require helping hunters, farmers and consumers adopt healthy practices or providing them with financial and multifaceted support to move to other sources of protein and livelihoods.
Preventing future pandemics will require the United States, China, and the world to make these deep commitments to nature conservation. With the next pandemic likely, including in 2021, these changes cannot come very soon.
Vanda Philpab-Brown, Ph.D. and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and author of the bookThe Extinction Market: Wildlife Trafficking and How to Combat It. ”
Catherine Simser, a conservation researcher, is a member of the Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).