By Ademola Ajagbe
As the world reels from the profound negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic, suspected to have originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan, China in late 2019, humanity’s relationship with nature is increasingly under scrutiny.
Virtually all economies, organizations and individuals around the world are affected by the pandemic, and the conservation sector has not been spared. The pandemic underlines how risks stemming from our interaction with nature affects every facet of our lives. Across the continent, tourism revenues have plummeted. For example, a recent report indicates that Kenya’s tourism sector lost KSh 85 billion (US$ 800 million) following travel restrictions. It is estimated that Uganda will lose US$ 1.6 billion per year due to tourism revenue loss occasioned by the pandemic. There is also increasing risk of elevated human-wildlife conflict and poaching, For instance , Botswana has already lost about six rhinos since the pandemic shut down tourism in the country, while at least nine rhinos have been killed in South Africa since the shutdown occasioned by the virus.
COVID-19 has struck at a time that was deemed vital for nature – the “Super year” for biodiversity. Important events including the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference (COP 15), and the IUCN World Conservation Congress were lined up to deliberate on new goals to protect nature. Many of these meetings have been pushed back due to Covid-19.
In light of current crisis, a new discourse is increasingly shaping up – How will a post Covid-19 scenario look like? We truly are at a point where we need a green recovery for the planet. World over, economies are functions of healthy natural environment. The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2020 Global Risks Report identified environmental risks as the greatest systemic risk facing the global economy. Additionally, a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis shows that industries dependent on nature account for more than half of global GDP.
Consequently, a post COVID-19 recovery strategy should be premised on reducing our environmental footprint. One of the ways through which this can be done is mainstreaming biodiversity into public policies and development planning. In line with this, BirdLife International, the world’s largest conservation partnership is running the 1Planet 1Right campaign, petitioning the UN Secretary General to add a new article – Article 31 to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a universal right to a healthy natural environment.
More importantly, is the need for governments to consider nature-friendly economic and business policies going forward. Such policies would include championing transformative models in critical sectors including clean energy, and sustainable agricultural practices among others. Through this, governments will be well poised to make significant contributions to nature protection.
Already, indications are that more governments will be adopting the Green Recovery model. For example, the European Union’s “European Green Deal” aims to turn climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all. In June 2020, Germany announced that it was committing 130 billion Euros (US$145 billion) to COVID-19 recovery, with 30% of this allocation to be used on cutting emissions. In Canada, companies receiving loans from the government will be required to stipulate how their operations will support environmental sustainability goals. Businesses should be a critical cog of a post COVID-19 green recovery plan taking into account commitments to a green energy and climate action commitments. Since May 2020, more than 155 companies, representing more than five million employees globally are calling for an evidence-based green economic recovery. In New Zealand for instance, BirdLife partner Forest and Bird is working to secure a green recovery. This green recovery’s blueprint has successfully unlocked $ 1.1 billion government funding to secure jobs and a further $ 700 million for infrastructure projects. This is being made possible through strong collaborations with the government and other NGOs, in addition to providing nature focused solutions.
With COVID-19 disrupting the normal way of doing businesses, organizations should embrace suitable new business models and practices and reduce emissions. Some of these may include teleworking, cutting down on emissions, in addition to tracking production and consumption to ensure sustainable supply chains. Prominence should be placed on sustainable deals which put nature at heart. Establishing multiplier partnerships with organizations mitigating drivers of nature loss will be critical. To sum it up, nature before profits should be the clarion call for a green recovery.
The writer is Regional Director Africa, BirdLife International. Contact: [email protected]