Covid-19 has shone a spotlight onto our environmental crisis globally and arguably more so than any other single event. It is a disease that has wreaked havoc on the life of every single human on this planet, regardless of geography or wealth. As such, it has forced the human population to question what the root cause of such an outbreak is. One need not look far to find the answer: loss of biodiversity. It is no secret that one of the most tragic and dangerous effects of environmental change has been loss of biodiversity. As forests are destroyed and habitats are lost, it has brought wildlife and humans closer together than ever before. This proximity has resulted in a much quicker transmission in diseases, such as Covid-19. Although the introduction of vaccines has given hope for the future, a more long-term solution is a greater degree of environmental protection, keeping not only the wildlife safe but also humans. Gone are the times where it was only wildlife that needed protection from the human species. Covid-19 has proven that biodiversity conservation is key for the well-being of all species. A green recovery is central to this objective of conservation. Otherwise, today it is Covid-19 and tomorrow it will be another novel virus.
Then there rises a question as to what a green recovery involves, especially with regards to conservation of biodiversity. The two major areas which provide for new pathways for the introduction of novel pathogens are increased land-use changes and uncontrolled wildlife trade and consumption.
Land-use change has led to a 30% increase in new diseases. Examples of land-use change include deforestation, development of new human settlements in primarily wildlife habitat zones, and uncontrolled agricultural expansion. An exponential increase in the global human population has increased the demand for agricultural land. As wildlife habitats are destroyed to accommodate agricultural land, this only leads to further loss of biodiversity. However, it also brings wildlife and humans closer and this allows for pathogen spill over, especially from other mammals to humans.
Wildlife trade and consumption
The wildlife trade and consumption industry has exploded within the past few decades. This trade is not one that is new, but what makes it ever more dangerous is the increased accessibility of wildlife. Globalisation has meant that more people now have access to rare wildlife across the planet. In 2019, the legal wildlife trade was worth US$107 billion. The illegal wildlife trade is worth between US$7-23 billion annually. Wildlife demand has grown exponentially, primarily in North America, Europe and some parts of Asia, especially China, but the consumption pattern still varies significantly amongst them. This increased demand for wildlife has led to wildlife farming, where many species are bred in captivity and slaughtered for the trade. The trade of mammals and birds are particularly potent mechanisms for introducing new pathogens, since they are key reservoirs of zoonotic pathogens.
In order to facilitate a green recovery post-Covid-19, which reduces the risk of pandemics, it is vital to consider the curbing of land-use change and wildlife trading. A complete green recovery is one in which national policies take a greener approach in all areas of management. This will ensure a sustainable mechanism for conserving biodiversity across the country. But of course, this is not a problem that stops with our borders. A global push for greener recovery is the only solution for survival as a species. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we as a species could achieve tremendous feats, if we acted together. Now, more than ever, we need to pull together to achieve a greener future.