A group of leading experts and scientists convened by the Global Environment Facility has issued a white paper on the nexus between emerging infectious diseases and environmental degradation aimed at informing international efforts to build back better from COVID-19.
The experts’ report, published ahead the 59th GEF Council, explores ways protecting and conserving nature can address the current crisis and prevent future outbreaks, and proposes new avenues for investment and cooperation to meet these goals.
The Task Force urged action to address the risks of future pandemic disease outbreaks through strong alliances between governments, civil society organizations, scientific institutions, development agencies, and financing bodies including trust funds whose combined efforts can make a significant difference in the world’s resilience and readiness for additional threats.
Recommended areas of collective attention include:
Biodiversity, invasive species, and ecological reordering – Linking the study of invasive species to that of zoonotic diseases; helping countries enacting policies to decrease the movement of potentially invasive species; and supporting strengthened protected areas.
Land use change, land degradation, and disease – Identifying areas where there are higher potentials for emerging diseases and focus on monitoring them; embedding the prevention of zoonotic disease spillover in landscape restoration projects; structuring government stimulus to avoid additional natural habitat loss.
Infrastructure and development – Encouraging governments to focus spending on low-carbon solutions and green infrastructure; avoiding construction of new infrastructure in intact habitats; developing strategic land use plans with a broad role for conservation areas.
Indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations – Focusing on helping the most vulnerable, including indigenous peoples and marginalized populations; strengthening local governance and land rights; ensuring public services are uninterrupted including provision of clean water, housing, and safe shelter.
Illegal wildlife use and trade - Limiting or prohibiting the sale of endangered species and high risk species; strengthening the sanitary and phytosanitary measures of the World Trade Organization; providing alternative livelihoods for people impacted by the closing of wildlife markets that pose a risk to human health.
Domestic animal production and agriculture - Improving coordination between entities focused on human, domestic, and wildlife health; restricting the use of antibiotics in domestic stock to prevent resistant microbes; limiting contact between domestic and wild animals.
Climate change and its impacts - Integrating health costs and benefits into climate change models; developing green stimulus projects; designing green construction projects; ending subsidies to non-renewable energy sectors.
Cities - Sharing disaster risk plans and build learning networks to help cities become more resilient; planning for increased interaction between human populations and wild animals; focusing on sectors with potential ecological transformation and job creation, including decentralized urban energy, local food systems, and retrofitting sustainable buildings.
Disease prediction and management - Developing multi-dimensional models and remote sensing tools to predict and detect outbreaks; strengthening public health surveillance worldwide; developing data sharing agreements to harmonize national and regional field data results.
Pandemic psychology – Investing in risk communication, which offers lessons for communicating the importance of environment-centered policies; promoting storytelling as a communication strategy in pandemics; using social and behavioral psychology to promote behavior changes that help prevent transmission.
Underlying the task force’s findings is a consensus that to prevent future pandemics, the world needs to focus on the connections between people and nature. This is something the GEF, which provides about $1 billion a year to help developing countries address the world’s most urgent environmental challenges, is already advancing in several ways.
For example, the GEF is working to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and consumption which brings people and wild species in close contact, often in crowded markets with ideal conditions for the spread of pathogens. Through the World Bank-managed Global Wildlife Program and other initiatives, the trust fund is helping expand assistance to all developing countries where this activity is a problem.
Additionally, the GEF is leading several programs to address deforestation that brings people into contact with wildlife that harbors pathogens. The Sustainable Forest Management Impact Program builds on advances in forest protection, management, and restoration to develop a comprehensive approach to the conservation. The program works to protect the few places in the world where intact forest biomes still exist and innovative approaches can be tested. These include the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and dryland landscapes in Central Asia and Africa.
According to the Task Force, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the logic behind these and other programmatic approaches that aim at the root causes of environmental degradation, such as the Sustainable Cities Impact Program, the Food, Land Use, and Restoration Impact Program, and the Good Growth Platform.
The GEF COVID-19 Task Force includes:
- Sandy Andelman, Wildlife Conservation Society
- David Barron, ICCF
- Rosina Bierbaum, STAP
- Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance
- Gustavo Fonseca, GEF
- Claude Gascon, GEF
- Jeffrey Griffin, FAO
- Karin Kemper, World Bank
- Garo Batmanian, World Bank
- Teayeon Kim, GEF
- Aileen Lee, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
- Barney Long, Global Wildlife Conservation
- Thomas Lovejoy, United Nations Foundation
- Eduardo Mansur, FAO
- David McCauley, WWF
- Midori Paxton, UNDP
- Kent H. Redford, Archipelago Consulting
- Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, GEF
- Nik Sekhran, WWF
- Kelly West, UNEP