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Climate change will increase risk of new diseases jumping from animals to humans, study finds

CLIMATE change will result in thousands of new viruses spreading among animal species by 2070, which is likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, a new study warned today.

This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly diseases such as flu, HIV, Ebola and coronavirus spreading from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades.

Researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2°C.

They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals were not included in the study.

Researchers said that not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemics on the scale of Covid-19, but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans.

Previous research has looked at how deforestation, extinction and the wildlife trade leads to animal-human disease spread, but fewer studies have looked into how climate change could influence this type of transmission, the researchers said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Experts on climate change and infectious disease agreed that a warming planet will probably lead to and increased risk of new viruses emerging.

University of Nebraska State Museum biologist Daniel R Brooks said that the study acknowledged the threat posed by climate change in terms of increasing risk of infectious diseases.

“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate for potential” emerging infectious disease spread caused by climate change, he said.

Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that because climate-driven infectious disease emergence is probably already happening, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.

“It is not preventable, even in the best-case climate change scenarios,” he warned.

Grassroots Global Justice Alliance organising director Jaron Browne said that the study highlighted climate injustices experienced by people in Africa and Asia, noting that this underlines “how those on the front lines of the crisis have very often done the least to create climate change.”

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