The Independent partners with the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s Effort to Protect Nature and End Pandemics

Experts will address the root causes of the pandemic and consider a concrete action plan that they will submit to G20 heads of states ahead of their meeting in Rome in October this year

<p>Seychelle giant land tortoise at an animal market in Bangkok </p>

Seychelle giant land tortoise at an animal market in Bangkok

Global experts are to meet at Vatican department this week to discuss the urgent and practical steps that world leaders can take to prevent future disastrous zoonotic outbreaks and help prevent future pandemics.

The roundtable, which is being staged on Thursday, is hosted by our campaign partner EndPandemics as well as United for Regeneration and the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, which advises the Pope and Vatican leaders on policy. 

The event is supported by The Independent’s Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign, which was launched in Easter of 2020 in response to the conservation crisis unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, The Independent has worked with multiple partners including Freeland and EndPandemics and has published pieces on illegal trade in tiger parts, tortoises, elephants, rhinos and pangolins, as well as led an investigation into the global financial institutions that are invested in the illegal wildlife trade.

Launched against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 4 million lives globally, the Vatican event is another milestone in the campaign’s effort to tackle wildlife crime and habitat destruction across the globe.

It will be streamed from the Vatican’s Dicastery media studio. It will be broadcast live on The Independent as part of our Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign coverage.

The meeting intends to produce a series of calls to action, including a roadmap to avoid future pandemics, that they will submit to G20 heads of states who will meet in Rome in October 2021.

Experts will address the root causes of the pandemic, including over-exploitation of nature, illegal wildlife trafficking and destructive land use practices.

“We need to focus on prevention rather than always running to fix crisis at huge cost to humans, nature and economies,” said Walter Link, co-chair of United for Regeneration and member of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission.

“Like climate chaos, Covid-19 could have been prevented. We need to listen to science. The laws of nature are inescapable. We either listen and prevent now at low cost or risk a next pandemic that could be more devastating.

“We can significantly reduce the risk of future pandemics quite easily and for very little money. Covid-19 and the past five zoonotic outbreaks, including HIV, SARS and Ebola were caused by humans unnecessarily invading wild areas and harming wildlife through deforestation, poaching, industrial scale wild animal farming and trade, and more.”

He said: “Except for indigenous subsistence hunting and sport hunting, we don’t need to eat wild meat to feed humanity. But we do need wild areas to protect our health, biodiversity and climate.”

Award-winning actress and campaigner, Jane Seymour, who earlier this year backed The Independent and the Evening Standard’s campaign against the illegal wildlife trade, will also speak at the roundtable.

She will be joined by the world’s top Emerging Infectious Disease experts Dr Aaron Bernstein from Harvard and Dr Catherine Machalaba, a member of the WHO advisory team, together with Kenya’s Ambassador to France and the Vatican, Honourable Judi Wakhungu, and ESI Media executive editor Oliver Poole. Current and former CEOs of major multinationals, family companies and business alliances working in the field of wildlife and ecological conservation will also join the discussion.  

The event will be co-hosted Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, Steven Galster, CEO of Freeland and Co-chair of EndPandemics, and Walter Link, Founder of United for Regeneration and a member of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission.

EndPandemics was co-launched by our charity partner Freeland. Now these partners hope the roundtable will lead to further collaborative action amongst different countries and institutions across the globe to effectively address the root causes of the Covid-19 and prior outbreaks, including HIV, SARS, and Ebola.

“We have been knocking on the doors of governments to prioritize nature protection as the number one way to prevent another Covid-like outbreak from occurring,” Mr Galster told The Independent.  “The G20 nations spent over a trillion dollars last year on defence, but it didn’t stop our planet from being hit by the most destructive force in the last 100 years. This is a matter of international security.

“We hope, with the Vatican COVID-19 Commission joining the discussion, we can finally grab the attention of leaders with our message that the cost of prevention is less than one per cent of the cost of reaction. We need to act now, because the next outbreak could hit us much harder,” he adds. 

It is intended to be the first of a series of actions in the run upto the G20, and follows The Independent’s convening of the 20 largest wildlife charities last year to issue a call to world leaders to stop destroying nature ahead of the 2020 G20 meeting.

Mr Link said tomorrow’s meeting is intended to contribute to Pope Francis’s calls for concrete and urgent action to protect people and nature.

“This Roundtable is part of a long-term, multi-stakeholder process,” he said. “We need to elevate addressing the root causes of pandemics to a global priority, which is closely linked to climate protection, biodiversity and local economic development.”

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