IUCN statement on the COVID-19 pandemic

As the world continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stands in solidarity with all those already directly affected by the virus around the world. Our thoughts are with all vulnerable populations, especially those who are already suffering from the ravages of environmental degradation – many with limited access to adequate healthcare for financial or geographic reasons.

Coronavirus. Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS.

The Union remains fully committed to the health and safety of our employees and constituencies, and we have taken drastic measures to protect them. We stand in support with IUCN’s 1,400 Members and over 17,000 volunteer experts in the IUCN Commissions – in almost every country of the world. We applaud the many environmental heroes and indigenous peoples who continue their work at the front line of conservation during these difficult times.

IUCN reiterates its commitment to conserving nature for a healthy planet and people. We continue to help communities in these uncertain times while stepping up areas of work that will help us understand and address the underlying drivers of diseases that arise from human contacts with wildlife or livestock – known as zoonotic diseases. Many IUCN programmes, Members and Commissions are already working on issues that will help us better understand and recover from this crisis. The IUCN Species Survival Commission and Commission on Ecosystem Management are working to rapidly improve our understanding of how such transfers of pathogens take place as a result of human activities, such as illegal wildlife trade and land use change.

Land use change is a key driver of emerging zoonotic diseases. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation and an expanding agricultural frontier increase the contacts between humans and other animals, potentially increasing the chances of zoonoses emerging and spreading. This is why protected areas and environmental law must be part of our global strategy to reduce or prevent future disease episodes. In understanding the consequences of human activities that lead to the spread of zoonotic diseases we can ensure we rebuild thoughtfully, and clearly communicate effective long-term remedies to actors ranging from policy makers to local communities.

A crisis, especially one of this intensity, inspires reflection and evokes difficult questions. Beyond the human tragedy, much attention has turned towards humanity’s relationship with the natural world and the impact of our activities. With an economic catastrophe resulting from the sudden and drastic halt of activity, many have observed that, beyond the human tragedy, our footprint on the planet has temporarily become lighter. No doubt, this is a sign that we are capable of doing things differently, but to look on this as a positive outcome would be a grave mistake. The cost has been and will be enormous in terms of lost jobs, hardship and suffering. Furthermore, it is clear that the COVID-19 outbreak is also bringing new threats to indigenous peoples and rural communities, as well as exacerbated violence, in particular against women and girls as quarantine conditions make unsafe homes even more dangerous.

We can rebuild, but let us rebuild smarter. As a community we have been speaking of the need for transformational change – let us work together now to ensure we follow a thoughtful sustainable path. IUCN will continue to engage with women and men across communities to build and implement safe and gender-equitable solutions.

People around the world, especially those on the front lines of the fight against this pandemic, continue to go to work, often putting their lives at risk so others may be looked after, kept safe and have continued access to food and other necessities. The technological progress that has marked these past decades now allows many others, especially in urban centres, to work from home. They attend the same meetings that they would at the office or halfway around the world, producing similar results. They drive less, fly less, pollute less.

To draw a lesson from this ongoing tragedy, we should all vow to revisit the way we work. We must look at how we can reduce our footprint on the natural world by continuing to use the tools we are using now. We can set targets to fly and commute less, and report our progress in a transparent way.

As a global leader in undertaking and coordinating research and policy advice on the environment, IUCN will continue to work with our Members and networks to bring you essential insights and lessons learnt. We remain committed to our powerful Union, to our mission of sustainable development, and to working together to ensure a healthy planet, with healthy people.  

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