Coronavirus: UK believes disease behind pandemic was passed from animals naturally
The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 leaked accidentally from a Chinese laboratory is considered unlikely, Whitehall sources say.
The UK believes it is highly likely the strain of coronavirus behind the global pandemic first passed from animals to humans naturally unconnected to a laboratory, Sky News understands.
The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19 – might have leaked accidentally from a Chinese laboratory cannot be disproved, but it is considered unlikely, according to informed Whitehall sources.
The UK position contrasts with a claim by US President Donald Trump, who said he had seen evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the pandemic.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, alleging there was a significant amount of evidence to support this theory.
The US administration has heaped blame on China for the pandemic in a standoff that has made the question about the origin of the virus increasingly political.
A statement released by US spy agencies last week was more balanced when considering whether the virus first infected humans naturally from an interaction with an animal or whether transmission happened by accident in a laboratory.
However, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all US intelligence and security agencies, did not place weight on either theory, in contrast with the UK.
The whole world has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – we all fear for our own health, that of our loved ones and also those who are most vulnerable. In the span of just a few weeks, Covid-19 suddenly become more urgent than the crises of ongoing climate change or the dangerous decline in biodiversity. Catastrophic events that once monopolised world attention, such as the forest fires in Australia , suddenly seemed less serious than a pandemic that could touch all of us, immediately, in our own homes.
However, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS, etc.), the emergence of the coronavirus is not unrelated to the climate and biodiversity crises we are experiencing. What do these pandemics tell us about the state of biodiversity?
Humankind is destroying natural environments at an accelerating rate. Between 1980 and 2000, more than 100 million hectares of tropical forest were felled, and more than 85% of wetlands have been destroyed since the start of the industrial era. In so doing, we put human populations, often in precarious health, in contact with new pathogens. The disease reservoirs are wild animals usually restricted to environments in which humans are almost entirely absent or who live in small, isolated populations.
Due to the destruction of the forests, the villagers settled on the edge of deforested zones hunt wild animals and send infected meat to cities – this is how Ebola found its way to major human centres. So-called bushmeat is even exported to other countries to meet the demand of expatriates and thus spreads the health risk far from remote areas.
We shamelessly hunt exotic and wild species for purely recreational reasons – the appeal of rare species , exotic meals, naive pharmacopeia, etc. The trade in rare animals feeds the markets and in turn leads to the contamination of urban centres by new maladies. The epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) rose out of the proximity between bats, carnivores and gullible human consumers. In 2007, a major scientific article stated:
This time bomb seems to have exploded in November 2019 with the Covid-19.
The danger of zoonoses
The consumption and import/export of exotic animals have two major consequences. First, they increase the risk of an epidemic by putting us in contact with rare infectious agents. While they’re often specialized by species and thus cannot defeat our immune system or even penetrate and use our cells, trafficking and confinement of diverse wild animals together allows infectious agents to recombine and cross the barrier between species. This was the case for SARS and may have been the case for Covid-19 . Beyond the current crisis, this risk is not marginal: It should be remembered that more than two-thirds of emerging diseases are zoonoses , infectious agents that can pass between animals and humans. Of these, the majority comes from wild animals.
Second, capturing and selling exotic animals puts enormous pressure on wild populations. This is the case with the pangolin , recently brought to light by the Covid-19 pandemic. The eight species of this mammal, which is found in Africa and Asia, are poached for their meat and scales despite their protected status. More than 20 tonnes of meat are seized each year by customs, leading to an estimate of around 200,000 individuals killed each year for this traffic.
Humanity is thus doubly endangering itself: We are enabling the creation of emerging diseases and also destroying the fragile biodiversity that provides natural services from which we benefit.
The circumstances of the emergence of these new diseases can be even more complex. This is how Zika and dengue viruses are transmitted by exotic mosquitoes transported by humans through international trade. The trade in used tires in which water collects and allows aquatic mosquito larvae to develop and be transported is particularly criticized. Here the disease does not spread by a first direct contact between the human species and reservoir animals followed by intra-human transmission, but it is transmitted to the human species by vector mosquitoes, the latter moving efficiently with our help.
Managing human and environmental health
The World Health Organization’s ‘One Health’ initiative advocates managing the issue of human health in relation to the environment and biodiversity. It has three main objectives: combating zoonoses, ensuring food safety and fighting antibiotic resistance.
The ‘One Health’ initiative seeks to promote optimal health for people, animals and the environment. Wikipedia
This initiative reminds us that we cannot live in an artificial cocoon, never be in contact with biodiversity whether it be wild, raised or grown. Two of the initiative’s three targets – food security and zoonoses – are directly related to the current Covid-19 crisis. We should not create dangerously unsustainable food circuits, whether it be importing exotic species or feeding unnatural products to farm animals – this was what led to mad cow disease , after all.
The causes of the biodiversity crisis are well known and so are the remedies. First and foremost is stopping the destruction of the environment – deforestation, the world trade in any commodity or living species, the transport of exotic animals – for short-term gain, often just a few percentage points of profitability compared to local production.
The world after Covid-19
Voices are starting to be heard that that the ‘world will not be the same after Covid-19’ . So let’s integrate into this ‘next world’ a greater respect for biodiversity. It’s our greatest immediate benefit!
The world that we will leave to our children and grandchildren will experience deadly new pandemics , that is unfortunately certain. How many will there be depends on our efforts to preserve biodiversity and natural balances, everywhere on the planet. Beyond the current human tragedies, one can at least hope that Covid-19 has had the positive effect of raising this awareness.
The impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems are already evident. Poleward shifts in the geographic distributions of species, catastrophic forest fires and mass bleaching of coral reefs all bear the fingerprints of climate change.
But what will the world’s biodiversity look like in the future?
Projections indicate that unless emissions are rapidly reduced the climate crisis will get substantially worse. Up to 50% of species are forecast to lose most of their suitable climate conditions by 2100 under the highest greenhouse gas emissions scenario.
But we still lack answers to some basic questions. When will species be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions? Will this occur in the next decade or only later in the century? Will the exposure of species accumulate gradually, one species at a time? Or should we expect abrupt jumps as the climate limits of multiple species are exceeded?
Our understanding of when and how abruptly climate driven disruptions of biodiversity will occur is limited because biodiversity forecasts typically focus on individual snapshots of the future. We took a different route. We used annual projections of temperature and precipitation from 1850 to 2100 across more than 30,000 marine and terrestrial species to estimate the timing of species exposure to potentially dangerous climate conditions.
Based on these projections, we estimate that climate change could cause sudden biodiversity losses. These could occur much sooner this century than had been expected. This new analysis indicates that a high percentage of species in local ecosystems could be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions simultaneously.
Rather than slowly sliding down a climate change slope, many ecosystems face a cliff edge.
Risk of abrupt biodiversity loss early this century
Abrupt biodiversity loss due to marine heatwaves that bleach coral reefs is already under way in tropical oceans. The risk of climate change causing sudden collapses of ocean ecosystems is projected to escalate further in the 2030s and 2040s. Under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario the risk of abrupt biodiversity loss is projected to spread onto land, affecting tropical forests and more temperate ecosystems by the 2050s.
These dire projections use historical temperature models to find the upper limit that each species can survive under, as far as we know. Once temperatures rise to levels a species has never experienced, scientists have very limited evidence of their ability to survive.
It’s possible some species, such as those with very short generation times, may be able to adapt. For species with longer generation times – such as most birds and mammals – it may be only a few generations before unprecedented temperatures occur. When this happens the species’ ability to evolve out of this problem may be limited.
Why it matters
Abrupt losses of biodiversity from climate change represent a significant threat to human well-being. In many countries a large percentage of people rely on their immediate natural environment for their food security and income. Sudden disruption of local ecosystems would negatively affect their ability to earn an income and feed themselves, potentially pushing them into poverty.
For instance, marine ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific, Caribbean and the west coast of Africa are at high risk of sudden disruption as early as the 2030s. Hundreds of millions of people across these regions rely on wild-caught fish as an essential source of food. Eco-tourism revenues from coral reefs are also a major source of income.
In Latin America, Asia and Africa, large parts of the Andes, Amazon, Indonesian and Congo forests are projected to be at risk from 2050 under a high emissions scenario.
Sudden loss of animal communities could negatively affect the food security of people in these regions. It could also reduce the long-term ability of tropical forests to lock up carbon if the birds and mammals that are important for dispersing seeds are lost.
Urgent next steps
These findings highlight the urgent need for climate change mitigation. Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions this decade will help save thousands of species from extinction, and protect the life-giving benefits they provide to humans.
Keeping global warming below 2°C flattens the curve of climate change risk to biodiversity. It does this by massively reducing the number of species at risk and buys more time for species and ecosystems to adapt to the changing climate – whether that’s by finding new habitats, changing their behaviour, or with the help of human-led conservation efforts.
There’s also an urgent need to ramp up efforts to help people in high risk regions adapt their livelihoods as climate change alters local ecosystems.
Projecting where and when species will be exposed to dangerous climate change throughout the century could provide an early warning system, identifying those areas most at risk of abrupt ecological disruption. In addition to highlighting the urgent need for reducing fossil fuel usage, these results could help guide conservation efforts, such as designating new protected areas in climate refugia.
They could also inform resilient ecosystem-based approaches for helping people adapt to changing climates. An example would be planting mangroves to protect coastal communities against increasing flooding. The potential to continuously update and validate these near-term projections as ecological responses to climate change unfold should further refine projections of future climate risks to biodiversity that are so central to managing the climate crisis.
Our planet is still teeming with life. And with the right political leadership and daily actions that we take as citizens, we still have the power to keep it that way.
The Noah’s Ark Foundation, the non-profit organization set up to manage the ark will work to support global projects which prevent deforestation, pollution, hunting and the poaching of wild animals.
To stop climate catastrophe, there are certain places on Earth that we simply cannot afford to destroy, according to new research by Conservation International scientists.
Compiling carbon data from forests, grasslands and wetlands, the scientists determined how much carbon is stored in ecosystems across the globe and measured how long it would take to get it back if it is lost — and what that loss would mean for humanity.
The result: A blueprint for where — and how — to focus efforts to protect Earth’s living carbon reserves.
‘A generation’s worth of carbon’
The scientists identified pockets of “irrecoverable carbon” — vast stores of carbon that are potentially vulnerable to release from human activity and, if lost, could not be restored by 2050. (Why 2050? It’s the year by which humans need to reach net-zero emissions to avoid a climate catastrophe.)
Irrecoverable carbon spans six of the seven continents, including vast stores in the Amazon, the Congo Basin, Indonesia, Northwestern North America, Southern Chile, Southeastern Australia and New Zealand. These ecosystems contain more than 260 billion tons of irrecoverable carbon, most of which is stored in mangroves, peatlands, old-growth forests and marshes. This amount of carbon is equivalent to 26 years of fossil fuel emissions at current rates.
“We are talking about a generation’s worth of carbon contained in these critical ecosystems,” explained Allie Goldstein, a climate scientist at Conservation International and the paper’s lead author. “The good news is that we now know where this irrecoverable carbon can be found — and it is largely within our control to protect it.”
Carbon is constantly flowing in and out of ecosystems, added Conservation International scientist Will Turner, also an author on the paper.
But as humans destroy city-size swaths of forests at an increasing rate, the scale is tipping heavily toward “out.”
“We already know that fossil fuels release massive amounts of emissions and that we need to keep them in the ground,” Turner said. “We now know that when particular ecosystems are destroyed or degraded, they release massive amounts of carbon that we simply can’t get back in time to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. We have to make protecting these places a top priority of this decade.”
In the paper, scientists analyzed the carbon stocks stored across the world’s major ecosystems through three dimensions: whether humans can influence that stock of carbon, the amount of carbon likely to be released if the ecosystem was disturbed or converted, and how quickly the stock could be recovered if lost.
With these criteria, the researchers were able to pinpoint which ecosystems are most crucial to prioritize for climate action — and where humans can actually have an impact.
“There are some carbon stocks in ecosystems such as tundra, where permafrost will release carbon as it thaws due to global warming itself,” Turner said. “Unfortunately, at this point there is little we can do directly in those places to keep the carbon from releasing. But other carbon stocks that we studied are being released due to human activities such as clearing forests — which means that humans can also make a difference by protecting them.”
Driven by agriculture and logging, tropical deforestation rates have soared across the globe. In the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, forest destruction has surged a staggering 85 percent since 2018. Mangroves continue to be destroyed, with more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) lost from 2000 to 2012. Peatlands are suffering a similar fate, drained and cleared, mostly to make room for oil palm plantations.
We’ve still got time
According to Goldstein, however, there is still time to protect these critical ecosystems.
“We are right in the sweet spot of where the carbon stocks in most of these ecosystems are still manageable,” Goldstein said. “Our land-use decisions still matter right now. If temperatures increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius, then there will be more ecosystems that are going to shift into that unmanageable category.”
Although not every ecosystem that stores irrecoverable carbon is under threat at the moment, past does not always equal future when it comes to risk, Turner says.
As agricultural production and development intensify across the globe, countries must act both reactively and proactively to protect these crucial ecosystems, Turner advised.
“Preventing deforestation only in places where it is happening right now is like having a health-care system made up only of emergency rooms. We need to be proactive about protecting these living carbon reserves while we still can.”
Protect nature, protect carbon
The bad news: If we lose a third of this irrecoverable carbon, that alone would put us over our carbon budget to stay within a 1.5-degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature rise —the limit that scientists say is necessary to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
The good news: There are a number of activities that humans can do to protect it, says Bronson Griscom, who leads Conservation International’s work on natural climate solutions and was also a co-author of the new study.
To stop climate breakdown, he explained, we need to do two things: emit less carbon and remove excess carbon from the atmosphere.
“Irrecoverable carbon stocks are an essential piece of the natural climate solutions story,” Griscom said.“We need to start designing the next generation of protected area networks that span across a number of these critical ecosystems with high irrecoverable carbon stocks, and prioritize protection for the ones that are most at risk. These ecosystems are not only critical for our climate, they are also hotspots for other essential ecosystem services like flood control, water filtration and biodiversity.”
Next step: a ‘treasure map’
Now that these scientists know which ecosystems hold the most irrecoverable carbon, they are determining where exactly they can be found.
“By locating irrecoverable carbon stocks at a global scale, we can provide countries with a treasure map of the places we can least afford to lose and the places where we have to halt deforestation the fastest,” explained Goldstein.
“This will help us actually plan irrecoverable carbon protection and where to allocate funding at the local, national and global scale.”
What sets this map apart: It will show how much irrecoverable carbon is in existing protected areas and under indigenous management, and where — as well as the pockets that are currently unprotected.
Conservation International is also using this research to undertake an ambitious initiative to protect tens of millions of hectares of ecosystems high in irrecoverable carbon.
But to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, protecting irrecoverable carbon must be a priority across industries and stakeholders — from the private sector to governments.
“We have growing evidence that the final battle ground whether we fail or succeed in delivering the Paris Climate Agreement of holding the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming line, is not only whether we are able to get off fossil fuels, it is also whether we are able to safeguard the carbon sinks in nature,” said Johan Rockström, Conservation International’s chief scientist. “Here, we provide the first global assessment of the ecosystems that hold our future in their hands.”
While humans are on lockdown, Olive Ridley sea turtles are making a comeback on Indian shores.
70, 000 Olive Ridley sea turtles are storming the Odisha Rookery, a coastal beach in India, to do a mass nesting in broad daylight. While this once-a-year event is normally a big time tourist attraction, Indian people are on a 21-day stay-at-home order.
Now authorities don’t have to work as hard to protect the hatcheries from pesky human interaction. These hatcheries were severely damaged last year thanks to Cyclone Title, rendering the Olive Ridley unable to reproduce at normal levels. Once the storm passed, the Indian Forest Department was able to clean up the debris and prep their shores for the turtles’ triumphant return.
The hatcheries are important because they protect the eggs during the critical stage of nesting. With the help from fisherman and other volunteers, they keep dogs and other predators at bay.
Once the turtles are hatched and head toward the ocean, their survival rates dwindle thanks to birds and other sea creatures looking for a quick lunch. An even bigger threat to their existence are nets from commercial fishing boats.
This year, the Indian government has deployed its own boats to keep commercial fisherman away. At least half of all Olive Ridley nest on Indian shores, according to the Odisha Wildlife Foundation.
A single Olive Ridley can lay 100 eggs before heading back out to sea. Once fully grown, an Olive Ridley can reach up to 2 feet in size.