Protecting biodiversity can prevent future pandemics

Two green parrots sitting on a branch

ASU Now I June 17, 2020

As a follow-up to her recent article, ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes Founding Director Leah Gerber presented a webinar to address the link between natural habitat destruction and pandemics.

This webinar, titled “A Global Strategy for Preventing the Next Pandemic,” took place on June 11, 2020 and was co-sponsored by the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. A recording of the webinar is available here.

While experts around the world have been researching how to halt the spread of the current coronavirus pandemic, Gerber acknowledges the necessity for scientists to focus on the root cause and the underlying problems leading to a pandemic crisis.

Gerber believes we have lost sight of the deeper drivers that accelerate the risks of infectious disease transmission worldwide: habitat destruction and biodiversity degradation.

“When we degrade biodiversity, this increases the risk of zoonosis, and a zoonotic disease is one that spreads from animals to humans,” Gerber explains, “This is what we experienced with the COVID[-19] pandemic.”

The way humans interfere with natural habitats to make space for human activities precedes the decline in species and increases interaction with wildlife.

While underlining the factors leading up to the cause of zoonotic pandemics, Gerber also proposes creating a global community to monitor human activity that results in zoonotic diseases. She calls this organization the Zoonotic Disease Commission.

The ZDC would focus on three goals: (1) improving the communication of basic science; (2) provide global policies and regulations; and (3) transform markets in the global economy that reduces the risk for pandemics.

“It can be a problem when we have nonbinding global agreements to try and work together and promote governance, and I’m also not seeing a discussion about incentives or market-based solutions in existing institutions,” Gerber said.