Friday

20th May 2022

Potential for future pandemics? 'Extremely high,' MEPs told

  • Almost all modern-time pandemics are caused by zoonoses, an infectious disease that jumps from animals or insects to humans. These include Covid-19, HIV, Ebola, Zika, SARS and avian flu (Photo: Kol Tregaskes)

Biodiversity loss and climate change have exacerbated both the risk and incidence of non-human crossover diseases - but experts consider that escaping "the era of pandemics" is still possible.

Almost all modern-time pandemics are caused by zoonoses, an infectious disease that jumps from animals or insects to humans. These include Covid-19, HIV, Ebola, Zika, SARS and avian flu.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

However, it is estimated that there are about 1.7 million undiscovered viruses circulating currently in mammals and birds - of which up to 850,000 could end up infecting people.

"The potential for future pandemics is extremely high," the chair of the report on pandemics by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Peter Daszak, told MEPs on the environment committee on Thursday (14 January).

"But what is clear is that our business-as-usual approach does not work," he also said, adding that "this is a clear issue for the future that we can deal with now".

The intensification of agriculture, changes in land use, unsustainable trade, production and consumption habits as well as the increased contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people are considered the main drivers of zoonotic diseases.

That is why escaping this era of pandemics will require "a major shift from reaction to prevention," acting on the drivers of pandemics before viruses emerge from nature and spill over to humans, said fellow IPBES's executive secretary Anne Larigauderie .

The strong correlation between the continuous deterioration of ecosystems and the intervals at which pandemics or epidemics occur should be "more than a serious warning" to trigger a holistic change, said the chief of the European Environment Agency, Hans Bruyninckx.

"[But] even in Europe, [where] we have policies for decades, we see a general decline of species and habitats and the overall quality of biodiversity and ecosystems," he warned.

A recent report revealed that 81 percent of the habitats in Europe are in a bad or poor conservation state - which has renewed calls to restore damaged ecosystems across the bloc.

Homo Sapiens next?

The main causes of biodiversity loss within the bloc are agricultural practices, landscape fragmentation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change - which has become a key factor in the decline of species and habitats.

According to Bruyninckx, understanding that "natural capital as a foundation capital for society has finally reached the highest level of policy-making and economic reasoning".

"By now, there is a lot of political and financial capital invested in climate change, [but] making that same connection to biodiversity will be critical - not only to protect biodiversity [itself] but also to protect our human existence and health," he said.

"If there are currently one million species on the way out in the 'sixth mass extinction', the real question is whether homo sapiens may be part of the next wave of extinction," he warned.

The commission is expected to develop legally-binding EU nature restoration targets before the end of the year - as part of the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy presented last year.

However, Sabien Leemans from the World Wildlife Fund told MEPs that failing to set spending targets for biodiversity in member states' recovery plans is already a "missed opportunity".

Globally, annual financial support potentially harmful for biodiversity is estimated at over €413bn - six times higher than total annual finances spent on biodiversity (approximately €70bn).

'One Health' solution?

The idea that the lack of diversity of pieces has an impact on the transmission of zoonotic diseases is certainly not new, but the current pandemic has served, to some extent, as a wake-up call for many.

At the fourth edition of the One Planet Summit on Monday, the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU will invest several hundred million euros over the next four years for the research of biodiversity, animal health and emerging diseases.

"Just as we cooperate for our 'One Planet,' we need to work together for our 'One Health.' This is why we will prioritise research on 'One Health' across Horizon Europe," said von der Leyen.

The 'One Health' solution, a collaborative approach between medical, veterinary, forestry and conservation communities, recognises that human well-being is closely connected to the health of the environment and wildlife.

Meanwhile, MEP Pascal Canfin announced his support for the nomination of the IPBES for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

CAP 'failed to halt biodiversity loss', auditors find

The European Court of Auditors has urged the European Commission to establish measurable commitments to tackle biodiversity loss caused by intensive farming - as the Common Agriculture Policy has so far failed to reverse this long-standing issue.

Brussels warns EU states against backtracking on biodiversity

European environment commissioner Janez Potocnik has called on EU member states to support a package of recently-proposed biodiversity targets, amid concerns that a collection of countries led by France is seeking to water down the proposals in order to protect fishing quotas.

MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Austria's ex-foreign minister Karin Kneissl should be blacklisted if they don't step down from top Russian state-owned companies, while EU countries should sanctions Europeans who take key jobs at Russian state firms.

Podcast

Ultraconservatives in Putin's shadow

Vladimir Putin's Ukraine war has threatened to be a public relations disaster for hard-right gatherings like the Conservative Political Action Conference — now meeting in Budapest and featuring Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who remains highly-cordial with the Kremlin.

News in Brief

  1. Half of Gazprom's clients have opened rouble accounts
  2. Macron seeks 'quick' EU answer on Moldova application
  3. German chancellor to tour Western Balkans
  4. UN: more than 8,000 civilians killed or injured in Ukraine
  5. EU agrees new minimum gas storage target
  6. EU justice agency to have more roles on war crimes
  7. More than 50,000 Ukrainians refused entry into EU in 2021
  8. Germany open to EU treaty change 'if required'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder
  2. MEPs call for a more forceful EU response to Kremlin gas cut
  3. Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'
  4. More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes
  5. French EU presidency struggling on asylum reforms
  6. EU states warn of looming food-price crisis
  7. Ultraconservatives in Putin's shadow
  8. Nordic Bridges unveil latest highlights of Spring programme

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us