Nature protection takes backseat in most pandemic recovery plans

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 9 (IANS): Most countries are failing to invest in nature-related economic reforms or investments in their Covid-19 pandemic recovery plans, says a study.

Indeed, some countries, including the US, Brazil and Australia, are back-tracking on existing laws and relaxing regulations and enforcement actions aimed at protecting nature, according to lead author Pamela McElwee, Associate Professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in the US.

Only the European Union and member countries are making substantial financial investments in biodiversity for post-Covid planning, said the study published in the journal One Earth.

Other nations, including India, Pakistan and New Zealand are proposing investments in nature-based jobs like ecological restoration, but only at modest levels.

"We still see huge amounts of financial support for harmful practices, such as subsidizing overfishing or fossil fuel production or building infrastructure that will harm ecological integrity," McElwee said.

"Only a small number of countries are addressing the biodiversity crisis in the serious manner it deserves." The paper, by economists, anthropologists and environmental scientists at many institutions on three continents, explores the changes in global economic systems -- including incentives, regulations, fiscal policy and employment programmes -- that are necessary to shift away from activities that damage biodiversity and move toward those supporting ecosystem resilience.

Unless action is taken, around one million species face extinction, many within decades, and the global rate of species extinction will accelerate, according to the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

That report noted the extinction rate is "already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years." The new paper spells out the actions governments should be taking in their stimulus and recovery plans that would prioritize nature, provide immediate employment benefits and lead to longer-term transformations in the global economy.

Examples include shifting from harmful fossil fuel subsidies to beneficial ones, including those that encourage environmentally friendly farming; carbon taxes that could support forest protection programmes; and work programmes that focus on ecological restoration and green infrastructure.

While many scientists and politicians have promoted a Covid-19 recovery that is low carbon, how to include biodiversity and ecosystems in economic plans has received much less attention, said the study.