On Thursday, the United Nations panel on biodiversity warned that more deadly, economy-devastating diseases such COVID-19 can be expected in the future unless humans change how they treat nature.
In a special report, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said that habitat destruction and overconsumption would increase the chances of animal-borne diseases infecting people in the future, France24 reports.
IPBES says there are currently 850,000 viruses found in animals that could eventually infect humans, calling the issue an “existential threat” to humanity.
“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk though their impacts on our agriculture,” said Peter Daszak, president of the Ecohealth Alliance and chair of the workshop that developed the special report.
COVID-19 is the sixth pandemic since the 1918 influenza outbreak that can be directly attributed to human activity, according to the panel. Five new diseases, each with the potential to become a pandemic, arrive every year.
IPBES cited unsustainable exploitation such as deforestation, agricultural expansion and wildlife trade and consumptions as factors that bring humans in closer contact with animals and the multitude of diseases they carry.
COVID-19 has cost the global economy an estimated $16 trillion since July, the panel notes, and investing in the prevention of these pandemics would be hundreds of times cheaper than attempting to weather through them.
Coordinated global responses to pandemics, preventing loss of biodiversity and taxing products that bring humans in closer contact with animals were all suggestions from IPBES that could potentially lower the risk of another pandemic.