Land degradation with its consequent loss of biodiversity is the most important driver of emerging pandemics such as COVID-19 and other diseases transmitted from animals (zonooses). The conservation of biodiversity is thus central to reducing the emergence of such new zoonoses and biodiversity is crucial for the development of new vaccines and medicines to combat and treat diseases. 

Also, illegal and uncontrolled trade of wild animals creates dangerous opportunities for contact between humans and the diseases these animals may carry. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call on the state of our relationship with nature that should bring WHO and multilateral environmental agreements closer together in a global governance One Health approach to prevent and combat future pandemics. This is a key conclusion of a new topical report from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Global governance of health and nature in the wake of COVID-19. Attentive to the role of China and to poverty perspectives.

Increased use of nature-based solutions against zoonotic diseases is not only a win-win situation for health and biodiversity but may also help to reduce poverty in developing countries. This contrasts with more ‘traditional’ policy measures against epidemics, such as culling of livestock, widespread use of insecticides, and travel restrictions degrading the living conditions of already poor people.

The report includes a case study of relevant emerging legislation and policies in China, as a central actor in global health and biodiversity governance. China has recently introduced policies and regulations on wildlife management and consumption which have a good potential to stem the illegal trade in wild animals and which reflect the country’s growing commitment to protecting wildlife. However, there is still a need for better enforcement and greater public awareness to reduce the demand for wildlife products in China.

Given the importance of good health governance to fight pandemics, and understanding the policy processes to achieve it, the role of social sciences is largely overlooked, the report concludes.