In May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The 'most comprehensive assessment of its kind' was compiled over a period of three years by more than 350 international expert authors, basing the findings on a systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources.
The biodiversity experts assessed the changes over the past five decades and presented sobering results: 'Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed. This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.'
A 'perfect storm' for the spill-over of diseases
In April 2020, one year later, the lead authors of the IPBES report are underlining in an IPBES guest article that the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity is also linked to the outbreak of pandemics such as COVID-19. The experts are writing that 'Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a 'perfect storm' for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.'
These activities bring more people into contact with wild animals. In combination with global air travel, a harmless virus that once circulated among a species of Asian bats, was able to infect millions of people and bring 'untold human suffering and halted economies and societies around the world. This is the human hand in pandemic emergence.'
The experts are worried that 'Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people…' and they urge policy makers to react now by addressing the following four main points of action:
- Ensuring the enforcement of environmental regulations and deploying only stimulus packages that offer incentives for more sustainable and nature-positive activities;
- Adopting a ‘One Health’ approach at all levels of decision-making recognizing the complex interconnections among the health of people, animals, plants and our shared environment;
- Properly funding health systems and offering viable and sustainable alternatives to high-risk economic activities to protect the health of the most vulnerable;
- Enacting transformative change: fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, promoting social and environmental responsibilities across all sectors.
The work of the scientists can inspire regional and local policy makers world-wide in shaping the COVID-19 stimulus packages, in implementing the sustainable development goals and in enacting transformative change. Interreg Europe projects can take immediate inspiration from the IPBES Global Assessment Report for shaping their post-COVID policy packages and action plans.
If we use this huge societal crisis as an opportunity for transformative change, we can come back stronger and more resilient than before. To do so, we have to understand that humans and nature are part of the same eco-system and that we have to protect nature to help nature protecting us.
For more information, also watch the video on IPBES Regional Assessments on Biodiversity and Eco-systems Services and read the Interreg Europe Policy Briefs on urban eco-systems and on the use of technologies for better protection and management of natural heritage.