Climate change will spread thousands of new viruses to animals by 2070, likely raising the risk of emerging infectious diseases spreading from animals to humans, a new study warns.
This is especially true in Africa and Asia, two continents that have been at the forefront of the transmission of viruses from humans to animals, or vice versa, in recent decades, especially with regard to influenza, Ebola and the coronavirus.
The researchers, whose findings will be published Thursday in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, used modeling to examine the potential migration of more than 3,000 species of mammals, and the virus sharing that could result in the next 50 years if the planet warms by 2 degrees. Celsius, which is possible according to the most recent studies.
They found that virus exchange between species will occur more than 4,000 times in mammals alone. Birds and sea creatures were not part of the study.
Researchers clarify that not all viruses will make the jump to humans and that not all will cause a pandemic of the same magnitude as the coronavirus, but the increase in the number of viruses jumping from one species to another also increases the risk of dissemination to people.
The study highlights two global crises — climate change and the spread of infectious diseases — as the world grapples with how to deal with each.
Previous studies have looked at how deforestation, extinction and wildlife trade lead to a spread of animals to humans, but research is scarcer on how climate change could affect such transfers, researchers explained.
†We don’t talk much about climate in the context of zoonoses” — diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, said one of the study’s co-authors, Georgetown University biology professor Colin Carlson. “Our study brings together the two most pressing crises we face.†
Climate change and infectious disease experts agree that a warmer planet is likely to increase the risk of new viruses emerging.
Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist from the University of Nebraska, said the study illustrates the risk of climate change in terms of an increased risk of infectious diseases.
†This specific contribution is an extremely conservative estimate of the potential” for the spread of new infectious diseases due to climate change.he warned.
dr. Aaron Bernstein, acting director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University, says the study confirms long-standing doubts about the impact of global warming on the emergence of infectious diseases.
†In particular, note that this research shows that such encounters may already occur more often, in places where several people live.said Dr. Bernstein.
A study co-author, Georgetown University ecologist Gregory Albery, said that since the rise of infectious diseases caused by climate change is likely already happening, the planet needs to learn about it and prepare for a deal.
†It is unavoidable, even in the best-case scenario of climate changesaid Mr. Albery.
Mr Carlson, who also co-authored the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recalled that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and phase out fossil fuels to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases.
Jaron Browne, of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the study highlights the injustices that affect people in African and Asian countries.
†African and Asian countries are most at risk from increased exposure to the virus, further illustrating how those on the front lines of the crisis are often the least responsible for climate changehe pointed out.
Drew Costley, The Associated Press