There is a strong relationship between the loss of natural ecosystems and the risk of pandemics, described in the recently published reports on pandemics and the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) (a high level independent intergovernmental body often described as doing for nature what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does for climate).

The main report identifies over a million species at risk of extinction, not to mention the threats to the life-support functions of ecosystems — clean water and air, flood control and climate regulation, food, medicines and much more.

It puts mining alongside timber extraction, settlements and agricultural expansion as leading to deforestation and forest degradation, and driving new contact among people, animals and their microbes.

The IPBES report calls for a better understanding of the links between the risk of disease emergence and consumption patterns in developed and developing countries driving demand for meat, products of mining and expansion of agriculture.

This improved awareness would help better target consumption to protecting natural resources and reducing this risk.

About five new infectious diseases in people are identified every year, and 70 percent of emerging diseases are caused by microbes of animal origin, says the IPBES.

The Nipah virus, for example, jumped from bats to pigs to people in 1998, and is attributed to the intensification of pig farming and deforestation in Malaysia. There is still no vaccine for Nipah, which kills up to 75 per cent of people it infects.

The logic would indicate that undisturbed ecosystems should be allowed to remain, and be increased in size. The proportion of the earth’s surface used to support humans should therefore be limited.

There have been powerful calls, led by E.O.Wilson, for this proportion to be one half. Organizations such as Nature Needs Half are campaigning for the protection of 50 percent of the planet by 2030.

The figure of 40 percent has been suggested by other researchers, if actioned alongside other key actions needed to reduce and reverse biodiversity loss caused by land-use change.

Read the full article about reversing the destruction of ecosystems by David Thorpe at Eco-Business.