The world is experiencing an unprecedented loss of biodiversity that is incalculable and irreplaceable, threatening the very existence of humanity. Scientists have long warned how biodiversity loss and habitat degradation creates conditions for new viruses and pathogens. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be the perfect proof of those warnings. The pandemic has thrown life out of gear and given us a chance to realise our own fragility!
The destruction of forests and biodiversity, and massive ecosystem disruption increased the risk of Zoonotic diseases. Such diseases have been linked to environmental change and human behaviour. Researchers say that destruction of biodiversity has created conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Nipah from Malaysia; Zika which emerged in Africa; and SARS and COVID-19 from China. Hunting, logging, mining, infrastructure development and rapid urbanisation have taken a toll on biodiversity. Natural eco-systems are complex and sensitive, where each species has a role and is symbiotically dependent on other species. Removing 95-98 per cent of the species from native forests for growing one or two species may result in the fast degradation of delicate ecosystems. Destruction of forests, degradation of natural ecosystems and population growth brought people into closer contact with animal species and viruses they host. In fact, human activity has been creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily. The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans has been a hidden cost of human economic development; scientists say and warn that the more we disturb forests, the more danger we are in.
A rapid decline in forest cover is not only going to seriously impact biodiversity but also stands to impact climatic conditions with irreversible catastrophic consequences. The world is on course for a three to four degree Celsius rise in temperature and many countries in the world are facing dramatic consequences. There is an urgent need to act on the pledge of the Paris Agreement of avoiding a temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century but countries have failed to deliver a positive outcome. Although world leaders realise there is not much time left to act before the damage becomes irreversible, there is reluctance in religiously implementing policies to thwart climate change fearing a compromise in their country’s growth rate. The pandemic also brought the climate crisis into sharp focus, offering perhaps a final chance to governments to prove they are serious about protecting Nature!
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown us that if action is delayed, it may become too big and too late to stop! But humanity seemed to have failed to learn any lessons yet. While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to be top priority globally, the fight against climate change has been put on the back burner. ‘Climate action’ and ‘climate emergency’ has been sidetracked by the virus’s variants. Amid unabated rise in global temperatures, the continued burning of fossil fuels, and the destruction of forests, climate talks continued “business-as-usual”.