Ensuring the resilience of protected and conserved areas in the wake of COVID-19
Experts from global conservation organisations, UN agencies, governments and academia[i] have united to highlight the major impacts COVID-19 is having on the world’s protected and conserved areas, and to issue a call to action so that these vital areas can play a key role in protecting our health and conserving nature after the pandemic.
The paper released this week in the scientific journal PARKS, describes how many national parks and other protected and conserved areas face an unprecedented crisis. In country after country, COVID-19, and the policy responses to it, pose a huge threat to conservation.
“In many places, management capacity and effectiveness have been reduced, and budgets and staffing cut, sometimes leading to a surge in illegal activities such as poaching and unregulated logging,” said Dr Jeffrey Parrish, Global Managing Director of Protection at The Nature Conservancy. “In just one example, there were 514 cases of illicit logging and illegal forest resource harvesting in Nepal in the first month of lockdown, compared to just 483 in the entire previous year.”
The paper tells how communities living in and around these areas have been hard hit, particularly those involved in the previously thriving tourism sector which has now all but collapsed. It reports too on the actions of some governments to respond to the pandemic by weakening the protection given to these areas. It includes concerns that governments may reduce or reallocate resources for conservation to other needs and emphasises that any economic stimulus packages should include strong support for the environment and protected areas to underpin human health and wellbeing.
COVID-19 is in part a symptom of the wider environmental crisis, driven by unsustainable practices, including the degradation and fragmentation of natural ecosystems and the trade in high-risk wildlife. Effectively and equitably managed systems of protected and conserved areas, which secure healthy intact ecosystems, should be part of the response to the pandemic. This would both reduce the risk of similar events occurring and help build a better future for people and nature.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlights again the essential linkages between healthy ecosystems and healthy people, and the tragic consequences when nature is destroyed and overexploit,” said Dr Kathy MacKinnon, Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “Protected and other conserved areas play a key role in maintaining intact natural ecosystems, clean water, medicinal plants and other benefits which underpin human health, wellbeing and welfare. This role will be even more critical as nations emerge from the pandemic with nature conservation being an essential element of recovery.”
The paper concludes with a call to action for the rescue, recovery, rebuilding and expansion of the global network of protected and conserved areas directed towards governments and people around the world.
“This paper provides a crucial snapshot of both the disturbing situation facing many of the protected and conserved areas around the world and the communities living in and around them, as well as illustrating the importance of these areas in ensuring a healthy future for ourselves and our planet,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica and incoming CEO of the Global Environment Facility. “We are at a crossroads – what we do in the next few months will determine the fate of our planet potentially for generations.”
The call to action outlines three crucial phases:
1. Rescue: support essential protected area services; bring in emergency plans and funding where needed; maintain critical monitoring processes; and ensure that environmental laws are not relaxed in pandemic recovery plans.
2. Recover: promote the multiple health benefits of protected areas for mental and physical health and integrate these benefits into recovery plans; restore management capacity.
3. Rebuild stronger: help avoid a new pandemic including by addressing high-risk wildlife trade from protected and conserved areas; support networks of more effectively and equitably managed protected and conserved areas; and build innovative and resilient finance that is more resistant to ‘shocks’ such as the loss of tourism revenue.
To support the Rescue phase the IUCN has called for proposals for BIOPAMA Rapid Response Grants, managed by the IUCN on behalf of the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States and the European Union. These grants aim at increasing the resilience of protected areas and local communities’ livelihoods facing the risks and difficulties of the global COVID-19 pandemic in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
[i] Authors of the article include leaders from a broad range of entities including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas, WWF, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Rainforest Trust, Global Wildlife Conservation, the Thin Green Line Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Panthera, the International Ranger Federation, and many academic institutions.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.