Global warming could fuel future pandemics by dramatically increasing the risk of viruses will jump into humans from other animals, researchers warned Thursday, illustrating another hidden and far-reaching cost of the climate crisis.

Key Facts

- Advertisement -

As the world gets warmer, many animals will be forced to find new places to live, taking any parasites and pathogens they carry along for the ride, researchers wrote in Nature,

The researchers examined how climate change could alter the geographic range of some 3,100 mammal species between now and 2070 and how this might affect the transmission of viruses between species.

Even under the most optimistic climate forecasts—less than 2°C warming—the researchers predict climate change will trigger at least 15,000 new instances of viruses crossing between species for the first time by 2070.

The researchers said these “spillover” events will be predominantly driven by bats—which can travel large distances, are likely to carry pathogens capable of infecting humans and are widely believed to be the source of Covid-19—and concentrated in densely populated areas in Asia and Africa.

While it’s not clear precisely how the new viruses will affect species involved, Dr. Gregory Albery, one of the study’s lead authors and a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said it is “likely” many will “fuel the emergency of novel outbreaks in humans.”

With human activity driving upwards, this process could already be well underway, the researchers warned, adding that efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions may not be enough to stave off the increased transmission of viruses between species.