This policy brief highlights how human health is directly linked to the state of biodiversity and climate change in the Asia-Pacific region. Improving human health and mitigating against future health disasters requires simultaneously addressing these causative factors in an integrated fashion.
Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) is a zoonotic disease, transmitted by animals to humans. Zoonotic diseases are driven by many environmental factors that enhance the interface between wild animals, domestic animals and humans. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the region’s environmental health was already under enormous pressure. The COVID-19 pandemic is therefore a call to urgently restore and reconnect a sustainable relationship between nature and human societies.
This poses the following questions:
- What are the environmental issues that pose threats to human health and how are environmental and human health related?
- What are the approaches that can be used to understand these interactions?
- What are the concrete policy actions that can be implemented to mend the broken relationship between human societies and the environment and address, at the same time, the global biodiversity, climate and health crises?
It is critical to generate knowledge to bring about change that emphasizes a shift away from current development trajectories characterized by biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, unsustainable production and consumption patterns, pollution, and climate change. A framework to address the nexus between the health of the natural world and human health within the limits of what nature can provide, in alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is imperative.
A combination of institutional weaknesses, structural economic weaknesses and behavioural weaknesses in the way we manage our environment led to the degradation of environmental health in the region and are linked to the environmental drivers of zoonoses:
- Institutional weaknesses reflect weak governance and institutional capacities. They include a lack of political commitment, despite the available science, to address critical environmental issues such as the biodiversity and climate crises, and siloed approaches to the management of environmental and human health.
- Structural weaknesses, arising from the prevalence of an unsustainable economic paradigm include land use change, unsustainable urbanization, all types of pollution, and issues in the way the economic, financial and business sectors take into account the environment.
- Behavioural weaknesses are linked to unsustainable lifestyle and consumption patterns. They encompass illegal wildlife hunting, trade and increase in international live animal exports, unsustainable agro-food systems and the unsustainable impacts of population growth.
With a framework addressing these linkages, specific institutional, structural economic, and behavioural change solutions are offered to ensure that environmental health and human health are protected, and offers perspectives on how to simultaneously address the causative factors of zoonoses in an integrated manner, focusing on the nexus between biodiversity, ecosystems, human health and climate change.
Key institutional solutions include the adoption of a regional agenda that would bring in all relevant actors, strengthen environmental laws, regulations and their enforcement, and enhance monitoring capacity, with a focus on addressing the biodiversity and climate crises. Structural economic solutions look at how to render land management and urbanization more sustainable, at reducing and managing pollution appropriately and at how putting nature at the economic paradigm can improve both human and environmental health. Finally, behavioural change solutions focus on better managing wildlife and wildlife trade, at promoting sustainable agri-food systems as well as overall sustainable consumption and production.