Addressing the negative impacts of climate change is one of the major concerns of sustainable development goals (SDGs). In this regard, mitigation and adaptation strategies are developed as tools against the externalities of climate change.
However, is it fair to limit our understanding of climate change to GHG emissions and/or pollution? Or the impacts of climate change to drought and flood? Are we missing something in understanding climate change with biodiversity and the ecosystem? The earth is healthy if it allows lesser diseases to spread from one species to another.
Hence, are we limiting our understanding only to the visible man-made dents in the climatic condition of the earth? This question is both interesting and important with regard to COVID-19. Can we call COVID-19 a natural disaster of mismanaging the ecosystem by human beings, if originated from nature? Considering that COVID-19 is natural and is supposedly transmitted from animals to human beings, is it due to the ecological disequilibrium, the earth’s ecosystem? If yes, it might just be the beginning of various types of pandemics to be evolved over time if not taken seriously.
Therefore, can we call COVID-19 pandemic climate-related negative externalities of the ecosystem? Can we conclude that COVID-19 is related to illegal animal trade and/or unsanitary conditions for the animals and humans or both? In meeting the higher demand for animal products, the increasing risk is related to the way animals are captured, transported, housed and processed and the unsanitary conditions probably increase the possibility of new host/s for a virus; in this case from animal to human being.
From the ecological standpoint, deforestation, decrease in rainforests, transformation of waterbodies to horizontal building landscapes are possibly allowing interaction between animals and humans in a different manner and hence, the viruses are able to find a new host.
Recent research papers in Nature, also conclude that land-use change, conversion of tropical forests into agricultural land and livestock farms are associated with infectious diseases.
Destruction of biodiversity disrupts the predator-prey balance, and human- induced climate change can further exacerbate the situation by pushing the animal population to different areas by compromising the health of animals through reduced range of habitat and/or less-than-ideal climate condition in that habitat.
Till date, the spread of COVID-19 has a larger footprint in the urban ecosystem till stopped from community transmission. The urban ecosystem is well connected, networked and has lesser ecological carrying capacities and hence the spread of the diseases is higher. As in the case of Ebola and Hendra Virus, COVID-19 is just the latest new infectious disease arising from our collision with nature. The evidence of association between climatic conditions and infectious diseases is also documented by WHO.
Having increased knowledge of technology and innovation in medicine and pharmaceutical sciences and biotechnology, we must identify various viruses in wildlife that are related to human life directly and indirectly, which could likely emerge potential as spreaders among humans. Also, understanding the potential of a virus is not enough, but to come up with vaccine/medicines in advance is, so that we are prepared for any pandemic such as the COVID-19.
Therefore, in the absence of vaccines and medicines for viruses that are animal-borne, we have no option left but test, trace, test, and care. Most of the economies have locked-down to avoid the spread, which has a positive impact on flattening the curve. Therefore, let us understand the ecosystem better and formulate policies that can help in sustaining the environment, with focus on development and growth.
From the international and domestic policy standpoint, economies have to agree to maintain the sustainability of the ecosystem. We have to increase the amount of protective land to help preserve the ability of natural areas to protect us from infectious diseases. Enough of the short-run target of economic gain, we have to move forward in creating long-term plans for sustainable ecological development. Wait and watch have been the most convenient approach in tackling climate change, which must not be followed in case of a disease such as COVID-19.
The somewhat positive outcome of COVID-19 is reduction in air, water, and sound pollution. But the other impact of COVID-19 on the ecosystem i.e. increased amounts of medical and hazardous waste that are generated at the time of tragic economic slowdown and human diseases are yet to be studied. For the human race to survive, we must have a healthy planet with fewer diseases by changing our lifestyle, consumption, and production and most importantly, policies related to the sustainability of the environment.