WWF Report shows: The Loss of Nature and Rise of Pandemics
As New Zealand begins to emerge from our Level 4 lockdown, we now need to look at how to prevent the emergence of future diseases. COVID-19 took the world by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. It was predicted, and inevitable. Why? One big reason is us. WWF’s report The Loss of Nature and Rise of Pandemics shows the links between human activity and the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Three-quarters of our planet’s land and two-thirds of our ocean have been significantly altered through human activity. In Aotearoa, 4,000 of our native plants, animals, and ecosystems are threatened or at risk of extinction.* Our marine environment is also under threat and nearly every river, lake, and aquifer are affected by pollution.** Activities such as deforestation, habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, high-risk food markets, factory farming, and urbanisation are just some of the reasons we have seen diseases like SARS, Ebola, AIDS, and bird flu spill over into the human population. New Zealand is not immune from zoonotic diseases, with thousands of people sickened from e-coli tainted drinking water in 2016.
Our world is out of balance. To prevent future outbreaks of disease, to ensure we have fresh water to drink, healthy food to eat, and clean air to breathe; we must restore the balance. WWF has developed a way forward with a New Deal for Nature and People. To become Kaitiaki of our world again, we must commit, by 2030, to:
- Zero loss of natural habitats by protecting 30% of our environment and sustainably managing 20%
- Zero extinction of animals by stopping the illegal wildlife trade, ending the exploitation of animals and nature, while supporting species in their native habitats.
- Halve the footprint of our consumption by transitioning to sustainable infrastructure, agriculture, fishing, and more.
This will ensure we are living within nature’s means and creates a safety net to protect us against disease. Individually, there is much people can do to help reach these goals:
- Eat sustainably. Move towards a more plant-based diet, eat locally, and support responsible producers. Food production is responsible for almost 60% of global biodiversity loss.
- Reduce Waste. We produce so much waste from plastic to food. Rethink what you’re purchasing, recycle/upcycle where you can, and do your bit to eat more leftovers.
- Buy Green. Use your wallet to support eco-friendly products and companies.
- Travel Responsibly. Many of us turned to walking and cycling during the lockdown for exercise, to run errands, or just to enjoy nature. Let’s not lose this momentum, so cycle or walk for your smaller trips and use more public transport.
Our government must ensure our economic recovery is a green one. WWF has also joined with Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, Generation Zero, Environmental Defense Society, and Ecologic to urge the Prime Minister to commit to a green recovery and to build an economy that tackles climate change, saves native species, improves freshwater quality, and restores our oceans.
"This pandemic is a tragic reminder that our world is out of balance. Science shows the loss of biodiversity and habitats are linked to increases in disease and other imbalances. The reset button has been pushed and now is our opportunity for a brighter, stronger future in which people do live in harmony with nature. This will happen if we make nature a priority,” says Livia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand CEO
Now, we must fundamentally change our relationship with nature. We must become kaitiaki of our planet. Manāki whenua, manāki tangata, haere whakamua/Care for the land, care for the people, go forward!