While global measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have temporarily reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, they have also hampered efforts to prevent biodiversity loss, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak said this month. Recovery plans must not only facilitate an economic rebound, they must also deliver a biodiversity stimulus, she said at a company event.
Recent data from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi indicates nitrogen dioxide levels are down 50 percent on their seasonal average, following restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus, with similar reductions seen across North America, Europe and Asia. Reduced human and vehicle movement is also allowing some animals to roam more freely – in Abu Dhabi, mountain gazelle have been spotted close to the golf course on Saadiyat Island, while an increase in sea turtle activity has been reported along the mainland coasts.
While the reduction in emissions demonstrates that it is possible to take positive action against climate change, Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, told Masdar employees that “what is interesting, especially in my line of work, is what happens to nature – is there enough investment in nature protection? To be honest, there isn’t.
“What the science actually shows is that nature is not rebounding as quickly as perhaps emissions are [abating]. We may have more time to visibly notice nature, we can hear more birds in our backyard because we don’t hear the traffic as much perhaps. But the numbers in terms of biodiversity are still going down,” she said.
A survey of organizations that have received grants from the fund indicates 40 percent have been negatively affected during this period, Al Mubarak said, and “we anticipate a continuous reduction in funding going toward biodiversity.”
While environmental tourism, zoo visit, safaris and other activities that support biodiversity funding have been halted, “the threat to species and their habitats has not stopped and in fact has increased” as millions of people lose jobs and return to rural communities where they will look to nature for sustenance.
With an estimated 1.6 million viruses existing today in the natural world, this encroachment could lead to more pandemics, Al Mubarak warned. “With these pathogens in wildlife, when we essentially go into their habitats due to a demand in our products, palm oil, agriculture, mining and so forth, we are mixing with wildlife, we are putting wildlife where they don’t belong and that’s where you have these diseases. In order to protect our own health, one must protect the health of welfare and habitats.”