Is the SARS-CoV-2 somehow related to climate change? New research has studied evidence that suggests that climate change over the years, especially in southern China and adjacent southern areas, could have played a part in the emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus, which has slowed down the world since 2020.
The study, which was published in the Science of The Total Environment journal in January 2021, found that climate change has caused a transformation of vegetation in the areas such as the southern province of Yunnan in China, as well as regions in Myanmar and Laos. It suggests that over the past century, changes in factors such as atmospheric carbon dioxide, temperature, and sunlight, have caused the regional vegetation to transition from tropical shrubland to tropical savannah and deciduous woodlands.
This, in turn, has encouraged the population of bats in the region by creating a more suitable habitat for them. It has led to the growth of the bat population, by an additional 40 species, and about 100 species bearing types of coronavirus.
“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” says Dr. Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study. “Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
While bats may not directly spread the virus to humans, the areas are also the native habits of animals such as masked palm civets and Sunda pangolins, which may have acted as intermediate hosts, the study points out. Additionally, the researchers point out the need to ‘limit the expansion of urban areas, farmland, and hunting grounds into natural habitat to reduce contact between humans and disease-carrying animals.’ A similar increase in bat species prompted by climate change is also seen in Central Africa, as well as South and Central America.
Climate change causing health risks, especially to humans, is not a novel phenomenon in China, among other places. For at least the past couple of decades, China’s climate change situation and policies have been discussed on global platforms.
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