We may be in this predicament because of our destruction of ecosystems and exploitation of wildlife. COVID-19 rehabilitation packages must recognize the value of nature for human health, well-being, and the economy to avoid the danger of repeat crises. This year, the subject for World Environment Day, Time for Nature, could not be more fitting.
The environment, human health, and the economy are all intertwined.
COVID-19, like roughly two-thirds of infectious diseases that impact humans, is a zoonotic disease. That suggests the disease-causing bacteria migrated from another animal to people. So, what animal was responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak? The jury is still out on this one. According to scientists, bats, pangolins, and potentially other creatures were thought to be involved. But let’s not blame each other.
If you look at other infectious diseases, you’ll notice a pattern. Lyme disease, Nipah, West Nile virus, and other zoonoses have become more common due to our massive environmental footprint. We have moved closer to natural reservoirs of illness and upset the processes within ecosystems that keep these diseases in check by overexploiting wildlife and destroying ecosystems.
Humans have extensively impacted three-quarters of the earth’s surface. Over 85% of the world’s wetlands have been gone. We also took down an area of native forest 16 times the size of France between 1990 and 2015. Land-use modification, over-exploitation of biological resources, climate change, corruption, and invasive alien species contribute to an unprecedented and accelerating species extinction. We will see more natural decreases for decades if we do not make radical changes in our institutions, values, and behaviors. With it comes an increased danger of disease outbreaks.
Nature must be taken into account for recovering COVID-19.
Governments are devoting trillions of dollars to reviving the economy and ensuring people’s livelihoods. If implemented correctly, recovery measures can put the globe on a new path that improves the health and resilience of the environment, society, and the economy. If recovery measures are implemented incorrectly, they will entrench or even intensify pre-COVID-19 behaviors that damage biodiversity, jeopardizing our future and that of future generations.
The COVID-19 reaction must be comprehensive, considering the interdependence of nature, human well-being, and the economy. Our interactions with nature and reliance on it pose both threats and opportunities. These must be considered in all corporate, financial, and economic choices.
Governments should think about five things as they plan their recovery.
To begin with, the COVID-19 recovery is no justification for reversing environmental regulations. This will only make the situation more vulnerable in the future. Ecological legislation must be maintained and strengthened, but this alone will not be enough. During the COVID-19 lockdown, there was an upsurge in illicit poaching and deforestation, highlighting the significance of combining environmental regulation with effective monitoring and enforcement.
Second, stimulation measures should be created to have a neutral or positive influence on the environment. According to Vivid Economics’ Greenness of Stimulus Index, stimulus measures potentially harmful to the environment outnumber those beneficial to the environment in 13 of 16 countries. An excellent initial step is to screen and evaluate stimulation initiatives for their environmental impact. Governments might make bailouts conditional on firms aligning their business models with ecological goals to spur transformational change.
Third, governments must make rapid headway in reforming environmentally harmful subsidies. Before implementing COVID-19, government spending on subsidies that destroy biodiversity was five times higher than total spending on biodiversity protection. Donations that damage the economy can be reformed to help free up resources while boosting long-term resilience.
Fourth, imposing and increasing taxes on activities that threaten biodiversity can help balance the costs of higher government expenditure and lower labor tax collection due to the COVID-19-induced economic crisis while also providing incentives to conserve the environment better. The PINE database of the OECD reveals that biodiversity-related taxes have a lot of room for growth.
Fifth, nature-based professions can help people get back to work quickly while also ensuring that ecosystems remain resilient and well-functioning in the future. For example, New Zealand is investing NZD 1.1 billion to create 11,000 jobs in the natural environment. Restoring wetlands, catching stoats and other introduced pests, and removing wilding pines to make way for native bush are just a few of the jobs available.
Natural-based ventures are easy to start and have a multiplier impact. Ecosystem restoration in the United States employs 126 000 people and generates USD 9.5 billion in revenue each year. It also generates an additional 95 000 indirect jobs and USD 15 billion in consumer spending.
“You never want a big situation to go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff. Governments have a chance and a responsibility to put the globe on a more sustainable course. Perhaps a worldwide health emergency will be required to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity.
It’s time to reconnect with nature.
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