COVID-19 pandemic


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How a pandemic is showing us the value of biodiversity

When habitats are invaded or destroyed and exotic animals are hunted or traded, humans come close to animals in new ways, and they also come close to the diseases that these animals carry.

SARS-CoV-2 is most likely a zoonotic disease, which means that it likely originated in wildlife and was transmitted to humans through close contact, possibly via animal markets. Nearly every disease that has ever become a pandemic (influenza, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, SARS, etc.) was caused by zoonoses, and the frequency of these types of outbreaks has been increasing.

Key Facts

+200 million

confirmed cases (as of 1 August 2021)

+4 million

deaths (as of 1 August 2021)


shrinkage in global economy in 2020


rise in food prices from May 2020 to May 2021

The increase in zoonotic diseases is not a coincidence. When humans destroy natural areas and habitats of animals, they also reduce biodiversity. As species disappear, the species that are able to persist in human-dominated landscapes are more likely to be zoonotic hosts, increasing the risk of spillover to people. In contrast, in less-disturbed areas with higher biodiversity, zoonotic hosts are less common as other species suppress their numbers. This means that biodiversity loss increases the risk of humans becoming exposed to zoonotic diseases.

Wider context

This is the second outbreak of a SARS virus in the last 20 years − the first was successfully prevented (because people weren’t infectious until they showed symptoms).

Future context

The risk of a new emergence of zoonoses is increasing, as livestock farming and encroachment increases. Their development into pandemics will also become more likely due to increased global mobility and interconnectedness.

If humans continue to destroy biodiversity, keep increasing livestock farming and come closer to wild animals by intruding into habitats, the international community needs to better prepare, or COVID-19 will not be the last global pandemic in our lifetime.

Root Causes

Pressures related to increasing consumptive demands for goods, such as food, energy and industrial materials

Cases where maximizing profit is prioritized over other social concerns, increasing risk

Lack of coherent national/global governance, unregulated exploitation of low and middle-income countries, limited governmental capacity

Pursuit of economic or developmental interests with a lack of consideration for impacts on the environment

A lack of perception, awareness or preparation in governance relating to risk management and response


Intentional mass removal of trees, often for resource extraction or changing land use.


Even those surviving disasters or tipping point impacts when they occur can be at risk of short- and long-term health impacts cascading from pollution, damage of critical infrastructure, livelihood disruption or other consequences of systems being affected

Through their impacts on natural and agricultural systems, supply chains and economies, the impacts of tipping points and disasters can put access to the foods we depend on for survival at risk

Disasters cause fatalities both when they occur and in the aftermath with cascading effects on physical and mental health

Reduction of people’s ability to support themselves or their family, both temporarily or permanently, is an impact that is interconnected with many others, including health and food security

Explore more from the 2023 report