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Rutgers-led paper details lack of environmental protections in pandemic recovery plans

The authors of the paper discuss changes, including incentives, regulations, fiscal policy and employment relations, in the global economy that are needed to reduce activities that damage the environment in favor of strengthening ecosystems and promoting biodiversity. – Photo by Wikimedia

A Rutgers-led paper found that most countries are not investing in nature-related economic reforms or investments in the wake of the financial difficulties posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to an article from Rutgers Today.

The paper was published in the journal One Earth and was written by economists, anthropologists and environmental scientists from institutions worldwide, according to the article.

The authors discuss changes in the global economy that are needed to reduce environmentally damaging activities in favor of strengthening ecosystems and promoting biodiversity. The changes include incentives, regulations, fiscal policy and employment programs. 

Pamela McElwee, associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology, said countries like the United States, Brazil and Australia are reducing the number of regulations or laws designed to protect nature, according to the article. 

She said more than 60 countries recently spoke at a virtual United Nations summit and said they would commit to addressing the biodiversity crisis, but only a small number are actually taking the issue seriously, according to the article.

“When we look at what countries are doing, either in their prior budget and policies or especially in their post-COVID(-19) planning and recovery packages, very few governments are putting their money where their mouths are,” McElwee said, according to the article. “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.”

The paper promotes government stimulus and recovery plans that prioritize nature, provide immediate employment benefits and lead to long-term economic transformations, according to the article.

These transformations include subsidies for things like environmentally friendly farming as opposed to fossil fuels, carbon taxes to pay for forest protection and creating job programs involving green infrastructure and ecological restoration. 

Many COVID-19 recovery plans promoted by scientists and politicians focus on lowering carbon, but fail to include biodiversity and ecosystems. Other nature-related plans deal with closing wildlife markets to reduce the chances of new novel viruses, expanding natural areas or reducing deforestation, but these can leave out the root causes of ecological problems, the authors said, according to the article.

The United States, China and other countries have not allocated much funding to address biodiversity, and countries like New Zealand, India and Pakistan are proposing modest investments in nature based-jobs.

The European Union and its member countries are some of the only nations including major investments in biodiversity as part of their COVID-19 recovery, according to the article. 

“Governments are falling short of their stated promises and they need to do more — immediately,” McElwee said, according to the article. “We will continue to monitor proposed recovery packages, stimulus measures and financial pledges for how they address the biodiversity crises going forward, particularly in light of the mega-summit on biodiversity to be held in China next May.”

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