While thawing permafrost is a serious problem, we don’t really need to worry about that being the source of future pandemics, according to John Scott, head of sustainability risk for Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich). Scott told VICE: “I think the viruses and the impact of thawing permafrost on future pandemics isn't such a big risk. There are other risks which are much more important such as the zoonotic transfer of diseases, in other words, viruses transferring from animals to humans.” Some of the drivers which are increasing the risk of zoonotic transfers of diseases are the same things that are driving the loss of biodiversity.
The destruction of wildlife habitats caused by deforestation and agricultural and urban expansion is bringing humans and animals closer together, increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases spreading to new hosts. Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), says: “Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people. Our erosion of wild spaces has brought us uncomfortably close to animals and plants that harbour diseases.”