Covid-19 pandemic has caused unthinkable hardship, forced countries into lockdowns, and uncovered cracks within the walls of our economies. But few would deny that work-at-home and lockdown regimes additionally brought some sceneries that have never been seen before in the world of biodiversity.
Is it Temporary Relief?
By the tip of 2020, it is predicted that carbon emissions are likely to decline by 4.4 % to 8 % which is the largest annual decrease in emissions since the end of World War II. As a result, people were astonished how quickly nature could restore, once given the opportunity.
Pandemic brought some relief to nature initially with the gradual decline of air pollution & less human influence towards wild species. But unfortunately, this was only a temporary change. Instead, the pandemic has escalated threats to species & their habitats with reports about poaching becoming dominant in the recent time frame.
The substantial increase in the use of single-use gloves, masks, gowns are creating further risks of plastic pollution. Lack of mobility has decreased conservation enforcement and economic insecurity facilitating wildlife foraging and illegal fishing. Temporary declines in tourism to protected areas have affected local revenue, park staffing, and funding for anti-poaching and wildlife management programs. In certain areas of China, air quality remained poor even when total emissions were reduced because of native weather factors, such as atmospheric stagnation.
Not only economies but major conferences and discussions have been affected that could have played a crucial role in the field of biodiversity conservation. Convention on Biological Diversity-2020 and the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference has been canceled where key policy agendas and impressive conservation targets are to be discussed. The shift of research funding to provide virus therapies is expected to cut funding for conservation, research and investigation, education, and restoration programs. Such shifting priorities have affected the launch of the UN Decades of Ocean Science and Ecosystem Restoration scheduled for 2021–2030 which were meant to contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In Nepal, poaching has been resurfaced since the beginning of the pandemic. Three one-horned rhino and three crocodiles have been killed in Chitwan National Park. An elephant has been killed in the buffer zone of Bardia National Park. The rhino count which was to start on March 23, has been postponed twice putting a halt to conservation activities. In April, six Himalayan musk deer were found dead inside Sagarmatha National Park, and recently, four people were caught with the skin of an endangered Red Panda from Birendranagar, Surkhet.
Temporary Vs. Permanent
Though the total emission has decreased by 17% globally, the UNEP report says decreases in greenhouse gas emissions of 2.7 %, and 7.6% per year are required to keep warming below 2°C and 1.5°C respectively. Hence, the decrease in emissions this year cannot cause much impact on climate change. So, these utmost decreases are likely to be temporary as they do not reflect structural changes within the economic, transport, or energy systems and cannot be voiced as a green moment for biodiversity.
Therefore in managing the crisis, governments should structure policies including future consequences. COVID-19 reflects a beginning while more planetary crises are returning. If we try to handle every new crisis with an equivalent economic model that got us here, future shocks will surely exceed the capability of governments to respond. If the pandemic has taught us something, it is that we cannot violate the boundaries of our natural world without risking our human health and wellbeing.
Now the time has come to start redirecting the $5.2 trillion spent on fossil-fuel subsidies per annum toward green infrastructure, reforestation, and investments in a regenerative, low-carbon economy. If we pretend that nothing has occurred, we risk creating even more devastating hazards. But if we decide to “build back better’’ by not just papering over the cracks but rebuilding our economies and societies on additional resilient greener foundations, then we stand on an opportunity to prevent the next crisis.
Of course, these are no new ideas. They are under the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals but the pandemic has shown how urgent it is required to take action. Hence, we need to retain this outlook as we emerge from our isolation and must create the color of our post-pandemic world green.
Written by Chitra Rekha Basyal and Deepika Bagale