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Ontario Tech acknowledges the lands and people of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

We are thankful to be welcome on these lands in friendship. The lands we are situated on are covered by the Williams Treaties and are the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, including Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi. These lands remain home to many Indigenous nations and peoples.

We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for Turtle Island, also called North America, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day. Most importantly, we acknowledge that the history of these lands has been tainted by poor treatment and a lack of friendship with the First Nations who call them home.

This history is something we are all affected by because we are all treaty people in Canada. We all have a shared history to reflect on, and each of us is affected by this history in different ways. Our past defines our present, but if we move forward as friends and allies, then it does not have to define our future.

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Reasons we need transformative global change to prevent future pandemics

Ontario Tech expert Dr. Peter Stoett contributes to major new international report on biodiversity and infectious diseases

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A group of international researchers is warning that human activities driving biodiversity loss and climate change need to cease if we hope to avert future pandemics like COVID-19.

The findings are published in Escaping the ‘Era of Pandemics’, a comprehensive new report by a consortium of 22 leading international experts, including Ontario Tech University researcher Dr. Peter Stoett, Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities. The report was delivered by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent, highly regarded body established in 2012. IPBES received nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize this year and won the prestigious Gothenberg Sustainability Award.

“COVID-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and it probably won’t be the last,” says Dr. Stoett. “Although COVID has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics its emergence has been driven by human activities. It’s estimated that another 1.7 million currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses exist in mammals and birds, and about half of these could have the ability to infect people.”

The report stresses we must change the way we use land and affect natural areas. The expansion and intensification of agriculture, and unsustainable trade, production and consumption increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens, and people.

“This is the path to pandemics,” says Dr. Stoett. “The same human activities driving climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. And the costs of the pandemic are tremendous compared to the costs of biodiversity conservation. The old saying ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ certainly applies in today.”

Among the IPBES report’s key highlights and recommendations:

  • The majority (70 per cent) of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis), and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19), are ‘zoonoses’, caused by microbes of animal origin. These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock and people.

  • It is highly likely we will see pandemics just as disruptive as COVID-19 in the future.

  • Unsustainable exploitation of the environment due to land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, wildlife trade and consumption, the introduction of invasive alien species, and other drivers, disrupt natural interactions among wildlife and their microbes and increases contact among wildlife, livestock, people, and pathogens.

  • Climate change is implicated in disease emergence (e.g. tick-borne encephalitis in Scandinavia) and will likely cause substantial future pandemic risk by driving the movement of people, wildlife, reservoirs, and vectors. This will lead to the spread of pathogens, in ways that lead to new or increased contact among species, and disruptive natural host-pathogen dynamics.

  • Pandemics and other emerging zoonoses cause widespread human suffering, and likely more than $1 trillion in economic damages annually. Early COVID-19 costs may exceed $10 trillion. By comparison, global strategies to prevent pandemics are far less costly (estimated between $40 billion and $58 billion annually). These would reduce and better-monitor the wildlife trade and land-use change, and increase One Health surveillance.

  • Pandemic risk could be significantly lowered by:
    • Promoting responsible consumption and reducing the unsustainable consumption of:
      • Commodities from emerging disease hotspots.
      • Wildlife and wildlife-derived products.
    • Reducing excessive consumption of meat from livestock production. 

  • The trade of mammals and birds likely leads to a higher risk for disease emergence than the trade of other species because mammals and birds are important reservoirs of zoonotic pathogens. Current regulations mandating disease surveillance in the wildlife trade are limited in scope, disaggregated among numerous authorities, and inconsistently enforced or applied. 

  • We need to enable transformative change to reduce the types of consumption, globalized agricultural expansion and trade that have led to pandemics (e.g. consumption of palm oil, exotic wood, products requiring mine extraction, transport infrastructures, meat and other products of globalized livestock production). This could include modifying previous calls for taxes, or levies on meat consumption, livestock production or other forms of consumption that raise pandemic risk. 

  • We need to build new intergovernmental health and trade partnerships to reduce zoonotic disease risks in the international wildlife trade, created from collaborations among international organizations and other groups, governments, non-governmental organizations, and corporations.

  • Sanitation in markets (with or without live-animal trading) is essential. This requires monitoring and the enforcement of regulations, avoidance of corruption, and education campaigns.

  • Valuing Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ engagement and knowledge in pandemic prevention programs is vital, from both a human rights and an epidemiological perspective.

  • Increasing sustainability in agriculture to meet food requirements from currently available land is also vital; we need to stop deforestation and other dramatic land use changes, which present the opportunities for exposure to novel pathogens to both livestock and people. The protection of conservation areas is just part of this broader mandate.

Media contact

Bryan Oliver
Communications and Marketing
Ontario Tech University
289.928.3653 (mobile)
bryan.oliver@ontariotechu.ca

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