Earth Day: 50th Anniversary

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ZSL Director General, Dominic Jermey, reflects on coronavirus and the future of conservation this Earth Day.

ZSL Director General, Dominic Jermey

Today we mark the 50th annual Earth Day. Since it began in 1970, the Earth Day Network has inspired and mobilised millions to take action on some of the most pressing issues facing people, wildlife and our planet. But despite everything we’ve achieved over the past half-century, this year it feels difficult to celebrate.  
 
2020 was set to be the defining year for international action on both the biodiversity and climate crises, with major intergovernmental meetings scheduled and a palpable public appetite for change. Sadly, with governments’ focus understandably concentrated on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, we risk losing this golden opportunity. 
 
One thing I have been particularly proud of is that although the pandemic has forced us to pause much of our fieldwork and research, the impact of ZSL's science and conservation continues. As governments and the global media seek to understand how the coronavirus outbreak happened and what must change to prevent future pandemics, ZSL’s wildlife health expertise has been in high demand. An example has been the interviews with the BBC and CNN, and others translated into numerous languages in news outlets around the world, by ZSL’s Deputy Director of Science Professor Andrew Cunningham, explaining the virus’ roots in the wildlife trade and the vital protection against other zoonoses our wildlife health research provides.  
 
We have long been highlighting the unsustainability of humanity’s relationship with wildlife and the natural world. Only last week, I wrote in The Independent alongside Jane Goodall and Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, on the links between human and wildlife health and the dangers of unregulated – often illegal – wildlife trade. We are all in agreement: bringing animal trafficking under control must be an international priority in the wake of this pandemic. 
 
So that is what I am holding on to this Earth Day. Recent weeks have brought unparalleled focus on the relationship between people and wildlife. As this coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated – with tragic consequences – the way we interact with wildlife has ramifications for us all. Yes, the intergovernmental meetings may be postponed but the public outcry for action on biodiversity loss grows daily. In response to the coronavirus crisis we need significant investment in wildlife health research, its application and improved regulation of wildlife markets. With investment, we can build a strong understanding of the risk factors associated with zoonotic disease emergence and how we can support communities to take action to prevent the horrendous impacts of these diseases they have experienced. 
 
Coming out of this crisis, we need to focus on recovery strategies that reduce zoonotic disease spill-over, better conserve nature and restore the valuable protection against diseases that ecosystems provide. 
 
If we can galvanise public support into political action, then 2020 can still be the defining year many of us hoped for. 

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