Biodiversity is vital for supporting all life on Earth. It provides all our food, many industrial products and medicines. Biodiversity also ensures clean air, water and fertile soils. It provides opportunities for recreation, scientific research and education. Biodiversity is declining rapidly throughout the world. The challenges of conserving the world’s species are perhaps even larger than mitigating the negative effect of global climate change. Species extinction and the degradation of ecosystem are proceeding rapidly and the pace is accelerating. The world is losing species at a rate that is 100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate. Mass extinction of species have occurred five times previously in the history of the world- last time was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and many others species disappeared. Previous periods of mass extinction and ecosystem change were driven by global change in climate and in atmospheric chemistry, impacts by asteroids and volcanism.
Now we are in the 6th mass extinction event which is a result of a competition for resources between one species on the planet- human-and all others. The process towards extinction is mainly caused by habitat degradation, whose effects on biodiversity is worsened by the ongoing human induced climate change. Biodiversity and healthy ecosystem are the insurance plan that we must prioritise as it protects us against a variety of risks – including pandemics, how human activity in nature contribute to disease emergence. Our world is made of a web of connections, made possible by biodiversity. Loss of species weakens these connections and can alter the performance of an entire ecosystem. Our future of food depends on biodiversity.
Both biodiversity loss and climate change are two of our greatest threats at the moment-even while endure COVID-19, we must not lose sight of this. Their impacts will be greater but we can act now to minimise their impacts, we talk about climate change a lot but biodiversity loss is as important an issue. How do we stop this loss of life?
If you want to understand how the biodiversity crisis will affect you and your daily life, just look around. Where are you right now? Are you at home, working in the dining room, managing kids and may be watching “Tiger King” on Netflix? Maybe you’re one of the millions of people for whom the situation is much more dire and you’re wondering how the few items you have left in the fridge can make an actual family meal or how you’re going to pay your bills. Or worse, you’re caring for a sick family member or grieving the loss of a loved one and wondering how we can stop a tragedy like this from happening again. Well, you’re stuck at home and your life is turned upside down because of the biodiversity crisis, plain and simple. Renewed focus on the global biodiversity crisis began in May, when a UN report issued the dire warning that up to one million species could go extinct, many within decades, without totally transforming the ways in which we use and abuse the natural world. Since then a big challenge of NRDC and for anyone who is talking about biodiversity loss and ecosystem decline has been communicating the possible impacts on people and their everyday lives.
Those days are over and here’s is why: COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus, which means it came from animals. Though scientists are still working to determine the specific host animals and the pathway that the disease took from animals to humans. Most agree that wild animals were the original carriers of the disease. Wild animals were the carriers for other coronaviruses as well such as SARS, MERS and H5N1 (Avian flu). Millions of animals are taken from the wild each year for domestic and international commercial trade in wildlife. Many of the animals are used for food, like those in the wildlife markets in China that are suspected of being the source of COVID-19 or for other purposes like traditional medicine, luxury goods or as pets. Some of the wild life trade is legal. And make no mistake. Wildlife markets and wildlife consumption occur everywhere. While China is a large market for wildlife, the U.S, Japan and Europe (the European Union and the United Kingdom) and many other as well.
The direct exploitation of wild species for food or for other purposes is the second leading driver of global biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse after habitat loss (it’s the leading driver for marine species). As more and more animals are taken from the wild for use by people, the risk of transfer of zoonotic diseases from wild species to domestic animals and human grows.
Conversion of wild lands for development agriculture and resource extraction, along with climate change also increase the risk of transfer of disease from wild species to humans. The overall impacts of the biodiversity crisis will be widespread and severe but they have also been amorphous and difficult to quantify or describe with any certainty until now. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately, at least some of those impacts can be measured in terms of massive economic losses, total disruptions in society and tragically rates of illness and loss of life. Decision successes and failures and government or population response times and actions are factors which may increase or decrease the severity of those impacts. One question you may be asking: Did the biodiversity crisis cause the COVID-19 pandemic? The answer is no, at least not any more than climate change can be called the cause of a specific weather event like Hurricane Katrina. But the biodiversity crisis which is driven in part by global wildlife trade is making it much more likely that such pandemics will occur just like climate change is exacerbating the conditions that make frequent intense Hurricane or other severe weather events more likely. Plus, the global nature of COVID-19 pandemic makes it more similar to a scenario where intense destructive weather events are happening simultaneously all over the world with catastrophic impacts for people and the planet. We’ll be talking a lot about the specific connections and links between the biodiversity crisis and COVID -19 in the coming weeks and months, along with exactly what NRDC thinks should be done about it when it comes to wildlife trade. For now, it’s time we recognize the biodiversity crisis for what it is- an immediate threat to our lives, our economy, and our safety- and begin to act accordingly.
Dealing with the biodiversity crisis require political will and needs to be based on a solid scientific knowledge if we are to ensure a safe future for the planet. This is the main conclusion from scientists from University of Copenhagen after 100 researchers and policy experts from EU countries were gathered this week at the University of Copenhagen to discuss how to organise the future of UN Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The biodiversity crisis- i.e. the rapid loss of species and rapid degradation of ecosystem- is probably a greater threat than to the global climate change to the stability and prosperous future of mankind on Earth.