COP26 Presents Historic Opportunity to Stamp Out the Next Pandemic Before It Starts

Preventing Pandemics at the Source coalition experts are attending the UNFCCC COP26 climate summit taking place in Glasgow until Nov. 12 to highlight research that shows how protecting forests and transforming agriculture soaks up carbon and reduces disease spillover from animals to humans.

The link between climate action and pandemic prevention are surprisingly absent from the top of the Glasgow climate agenda–despite the strong role climate action can play in preventing the spread of infectious diseases and future pandemics.

The Coalition on Preventing Pandemics at the Source, a group of leading global environmental, public health and human rights organizations and experts, is urging governments to commit $10 billion per year for pandemic prevention at the source. Pandemic prevention actions such as reducing deforestation also help to combat climate change whilst saving lives from infections. These actions would cost far less than one percent of the cost of fighting COVID-19 alone.

Stopping deforestation addresses a root cause of spillover and should be applied in areas with relatively intact tropical forests. Unfortunately, tropical forest conservation is severely underfunded. For example, nature-based solutions such as tropical forests represent 30% of global action needed to stabilize climate, yet only receive 3% of global climate funding. Climate benefit aside, the importance of this intervention to reduce the risk of future pandemics cannot be overstated. Three major, proven approaches can be used to reduce deforestation: a) integrated policy approaches, b) payment for ecosystem services (PES), and c) community-based projects. Integrated policy approaches aim to remove incentives for deforestation alongside improved enforcement of existing environmental laws, including respect for Indigenous Peoples and their lands. The tremendous success of this approach was shown in Brazil from 2004-2012. PES involves providing land stewards with cash incentives for maintaining or increasing forest cover on their lands. Community-based projects such as Health In Harmony’s efforts in Indonesian Borneo have effectively and affordably addressed forest degradation through use of on-the-ground service delivery to forest communities.