A turbulent cloud of pandemic lockdowns had an unexpected silver lining for the environment. Attitudes and expectations shifted in both the public and amongst political and business leaders, opening up new possibilities for tackling both the climate crisis and biodiversity losses.
Record drops in carbon emissions and the increasing focus of world leaders on COP26 raised hopes that concrete measures to safeguard the environment by delivering net zero will be baked into economic recovery plans.
Meanwhile, the possibility that illegal wildlife trade may have sparked the pandemic has engendered a global sea change in public attitudes to conservation. Also, reforesting and rewilding are climbing agendas across the world as immediate, practical ways to restore damaged ecosystems and tackle economic injustice.
- UN Secretary-General, António Guterres is applying pressure on world leaders to make plans to tackle the climate crisis in the run-up to COP26.
- Enthusiasm for rewilding is already bearing fruit with news that European bison have been bought back from the edge of extinction in the wild.
- Pandemic lockdown measures sparked a record drop in global carbon emissions sparking hopes that further cuts will be locked into recovery plans.
- Public attitudes to biodiversity conservation in China have shifted dramatically after the original coronavirus outbreak in an illegal wildlife market in Wuhan.
- Reforestation is becoming a tool of choice in countries as diverse as Greece and India to combat climate change and associated economic hardship.
World leaders under pressure to declare climate emergency before COP26
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres is pushing for all governments to declare a climate emergency until the world has reached net zero CO2 emissions as he seeks to increase a sense of urgency for COP26.
At least 38 countries have already declared such a state of emergency which requires them to step up their actions to rapidly cut their greenhouse emissions. An increasing number of governments have pledged to hit net zero by 2050, but few have detailed plans to do so.
Guterres has declared the situation as ‘unacceptable’ and called upon world leaders to use multi-trillion dollar Covid recovery plans to rapidly decarbonise as a way to ensure that future generations are not ‘burdened with a mountain of debt on a broken planet’.
Rewilding brings Bison back from the brink in Europe
The European bison has been moved off the IUCN’s red list of vulnerable species after a concerted effort by rewilding and conservation organisations to save it from disappearing from the continent.
In 2003, there were just 1,800 Bison bonasus in the wild. But after a complex breeding and reintroduction programme by NGOs such as Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania, there are now 6,200 spread across Poland, Belarus, Russia and Romania.
The ultimate aim of the project is to create a viable population that breeds in the wild and develops both biodiversity and sustainable entrepreneurship ideas based on ecotourism for local communities to thrive.
It’s a remarkable comeback for the species was rarer than the black rhino and survived only in captivity in the early twentieth century.
Coronavirus causes ‘record fall’ in carbon emissions
As major economies went into lockdown in the midst of the pandemic, the world saw the largest absolute drop in CO2 emissions ever recorded, and the largest relative falls since WW2.
Emissions from fossil fuel and industry dropped by 7%, a fall of 2.4GtCO2 compared to 2019, according to the latest estimates from the Global Carbon Project (GCP).
Fossil CO2 emissions have fallen in all the world’s biggest emitters including by 12% in the US, 11% in the EU, 9% in India and 1.7% in China, a GCP study shows.
A single year emissions drop will not slow the pace of global warming, but the researchers say there is a ‘unique opportunity’ to secure long-term emissions cuts by following an economic recovery ‘aligned with tackling climate change’.
Major pandemic shift in China’s attitude to wildlife trade
Biodiversity conservation seems to have turned a major corner in China in the wake of the pandemic as a survey of consumers showed a huge majority are now in favour of tough new wildlife protection legislation.
The original coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, thought to have arisen from wild bats sold in a meat and produce marketplace, spotlighted the public health risks of China’s rampant and often illegal wildlife trade.
More than 90 percent of the 100,000 respondents to a survey conducted by Peking University and the Shan Shui Conservation Center supported a strict ban on wildlife consumption, trade, and exhibition outside of zoos.
The country’s conservationists are optimistic that the result signals a wider public shift toward support for national efforts to prioritize biodiversity conservation.
Forests are the new weapon in the fight against climate crisis and poverty
Programmes to restore vast areas of lost forest are rapidly becoming key policy planks in strategies to tackle the climate crisis and tackle the underlying social injustices that are often driving it.
In Greece, the Environment and Energy Ministry have announced the country’s largest-ever reforestation campaign, the planting of 30 million trees over 10 years in areas where wildfires, on the increase due to global warming, have repeatedly devastated areas and made natural regrowth impossible.
In rural India, more than 1 million fruit trees were planted this year alone by government and NGO partnerships to tackle rampant food insecurity amongst small farmers who have faced climate crisis-driven droughts and floods, fluctuating markets and now a pandemic.