Fifty major banks poured US$2.6 trillion into industrial activities last year that drove species and ecosystems toward extinction, according to a report that coincides with warnings of an “era of pandemics” if humanity fails to protect nature and biodiversity.
“While European and U.S. banks have faced years of pressure from regulators or environmental groups to act on climate change, their role in financing economic activities that destroy biodiversity is also coming under growing scrutiny,” Reuters reports. Last month’s Bankrolling Extinction report by portfolio.earth found that “none of the lenders had adequate systems to limit the impact of their loans on the web of animal and plant life that supports human well-being.”
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The $2.6 trillion in loans and underwriting last year went to sectors like industrial farming and fishing, fossil fuels, and infrastructure, the news agency adds. The report placed Bank of America, Citigroup, BNP Paribas, and HSBC among the top 10 lenders.
“Banks are starting to realize that if they invest in sectors that cause climate change, that will hurt their returns,” said portfolio.earth Director Liz Gallagher. “Banks need to understand that the same holds true for destroying biodiversity.”
“Imagine a world in which projects can only raise capital when they have demonstrated that they will contribute meaningfully and positively to restoring the planet’s bounty and a safe climate for all,” said University of British Columbia environmental scientist Kai Chan, one of the lead authors of last year’s blockbuster study by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which found that a million species are at immediate risk of extinction. “That’s the future this report envisions and builds toward.”
The portfolio.earth analysis landed just days before IPBES warned that humanity faces an “era of pandemics” unless it halts the destruction of the natural world.
Those health emergencies “will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact than ever before,” The Guardian writes, citing the IPBES report. Already, “the emergence of diseases such as COID-19, bird flu, and HIV from animals was entirely driven by the razing of wild places for farming and the trade in wild species, which brought people into contact with the dangerous microbes.”
The study estimates there are more than 500,000 unknown viruses out there in mammals and birds that could infect humans.
“The risk of pandemics is increasing rapidly, with more than five new diseases emerging in people every year, any one of which has the potential to become pandemic,” IPBES concluded.
At a time when “we’re seeing pandemics every 20 to 30 years,” said working group chair and EcoHealth Alliance Chair Peter Daszak, “there is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, or of any modern pandemic.” He added that “the same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment.”
Daszak called for a “much greater focus on prevention, in addition to reaction,” in counterpoint to what scientists see as the “slow and uncertain path” of reacting to outbreaks by trying to contain them with new treatments or vaccines.
“Instead, the root causes must be tackled, including stopping the demolition of forests to produce meat, palm oil, metals, and other commodities for richer countries,” The Guardian says. “The costs of such a transformative change would be ‘trivial’, the experts found, compared with the trillions of dollars of damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic alone. Their proposed solutions include a global surveillance network, taxing damaging meat production, and ending taxpayer subsidies that ravage the natural world.”
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