SCI-TECH | Pandemic spending measures harm biodiversity, expert says

Government recovery spending continues to harm biodiversity, even as scientists show the importance of halting the loss of nature to prevent future pandemics.

OTTAWA, CANADA — Government recovery spending continues to harm biodiversity, even as scientists show the importance of halting the loss of nature to prevent future pandemics, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on Tuesday.

COVID-19 pandemic highlights the urgency of addressing biodiversity crisis with the climate crisis, and the need for transformative change, said the global body in charge of protecting the variety of life on Earth.

Many opportunities help build back better by integrating biodiversity in economic stimulus and recovery programs, but currently spending potentially harmful to biodiversity outweighs the volume of spending beneficial to biodiversity, it said.

“The links between pandemic risk and biodiversity add further weight to the rationale for addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss to prevent or reduce risk of future pandemics,” said CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

“We are standing at a crossroads. The way we steer our recovery out of this pandemic will either lock us into a business as a usual unsustainable path or will enable our societies to rebuild our relationship with nature and unlock its potential, ” she said.

The links between pandemic risk and biodiversity show the need for an inclusive, transdisciplinary and cross-sectoral One Health approach, as identified in the Fifth Edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, released in September 2020.

Pandemics and other emerging zoonoses cause more than a trillion dollars in economic damages annually, with COVID-19 already costing tens of trillions.

Conversely, change and increasing One Health surveillance are estimated to cost one or two orders of magnitude less than the damages pandemics produce. Thus, reducing disease risk through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is highly cost-effective.

Measures implemented by governments aimed at protecting jobs and incomes, and to promote economic stimulus and recovery, are overwhelmingly potentially harmful to biodiversity and outweigh the volume of spending beneficial to biodiversity.

There is an overall tendency to introduce stimulus measures that threaten to drive further biodiversity loss, for example by weakening environmental regulations or increasing harmful subsidies. This is likely to be counterproductive in the long term since the further loss and degradation of biodiversity will likely increase pandemic risk and jeopardize the achievement of most of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“There are many opportunities for responses to COVID-19, including both short-term stimulus measures and longer-term approaches to ‘build back better’ to contribute to sustainable development, and reduce the risk of future pandemics,” said Mrema.

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