World Environment D`ay is being marked this year as much of the planet continues to grapple with the coronavirus disease 2019, which has infected over 6.72 million people and killed 393,535 as of yesterday afternoon. While nearly half of the cases recovered, the infections and deaths are expected to continue rising in the absence of a cure or vaccine against COVID-19.
On the special day dedicated to the celebration of biodiversity, environmental advocates are pointing out that the COVID-19 virus is widely believed to have jumped to humans from wildlife – most likely from bats. There is a raging debate on whether the virus came from a wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, or from a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the same city. But there seems to be general agreement that the COVID-causing SARS-coronavirus-2 came from wildlife.
Those behind events marking World Environment Day 2020 on June 5 point out that the COVID pandemic is nature sending humanity a message. There are currently about one million species facing extinction. Experts fear that in the next decade, one in every four species would disappear from the planet.
Biodiversity is the foundation for supporting life and affects all aspects of human health. When these webs of life are altered, damaged or destroyed, it can have negative consequences on human life. Coral reefs, for example, serve as spawning and breeding grounds for marine life and play a critical role in global food security. Yet about half of the world’s coral reef cover has disappeared in the past 150 years. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is seeing the consequences of human encroachment on wildlife.
World Environment Day has been marked annually since 1974. While global awareness of the need to protect the environment has increased significantly since then, the efforts are not enough. Global warming has become an existential threat especially for coastal communities. More killer coronaviruses could emerge from wildlife in the near future.
It’s time to build back better – for both people and planet. On World Environment Day, the United Nations stresses: “To care for ourselves, we must care for nature.”