The environment has been far more impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than first realised and it seems recovery efforts fail to acknowledge this fact. Already the pandemic has taken a drastic toll on the world’s environment and conservation efforts. Ecotourism has fallen drastically due to travel bans, meaning a billion pound industry crucial for livelihoods, has been lost. The knock-on effects of this are devastating to the environments protected before the pandemic.
Firstly, in tropical areas of the world such as Africa and Asia, it has become difficult for rangers to operate in areas where illegal poaching is rife. This lack of enforcement, coupled with the need for those that have lost their income to fall back on natural resources, has led to a spike in poaching. Ivory and rare breeds have become one of the only ways for those economically affected by the pandemic to support themselves through the use of the pre-existing black market.
On a much larger scale, countries are jeopardising their natural conservation efforts in the hopes of economic gain. Rachel Kroner at Conservation International found 64 cases of environmental rollback, such as the opening of protected areas to oil and gas wells in 22 different countries. There have been 31 proposals found in India alone to open up national parks and other sanctuaries. Conservation International warned: “There is a misperception that nature is ‘getting a break’ from humans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, many rural areas in the tropics are facing increased pressure from land grabbing, deforestation, illegal mining and wildlife poaching.”
Closer to home, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have resulted in a slight respite for the environment. In a country where conservation is much less required to maintain an ecological presence, the lack of traffic simply leading to quieter roads has allowed wildlife to travel greater distances and has of course, decreased road related animal deaths.
This is but one of the environmental impacts of people staying local for exercise and entertainment. A larger impact is the fall in CO2 emissions. The Global Carbon Project reported a fall of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels and industry of 7% in 2020 since 2019. This figure mainly due to a lower coal usage – down 8%, and a decrease in global energy demand by 3.8%. These figures by the International Energy Agency show a relatively obvious yet undoubtedly positive impact, albeit a hard to appreciate silver lining, of the pandemic. Such a decline has not been seen for the past 70 years.
Unfortunately, these positive impacts are merely a symptom of a lack of demand, as soon the worldwide recovery effort truly begins, the environment will once again be pushed to the back of the docket. Vivid Economics, a group of analysts, reported that much of the $14.9 trillion stimulus announced by G20 countries will be detrimental to nature. It is clear that economic gain is driving the recovery effort around the world, with this drive putting many years of conservation and environmental efforts at risk.