Job cuts in nature reserves and environmental rollbacks by governments during the Covid-19 pandemic could undermine global efforts to conserve biodiversity and tackle the climate crisis, according to new research.
Budget cuts and a collapse in ecotourism revenue have forced national parks and conservation organisations to make staff cuts and reduce activities such as anti-poaching patrols, with Asia and Africa severely affected.
Brazil, India and the US have also emerged as “hotspots” for cuts to environmental protections during the pandemic, with all three among several countries considering proposals to allow mining and fossil fuel extraction in protected areas.
Examples included in the report are proposals by the Brazilian government to allow mining and fossil fuel extraction in indigenous reserves, new permits in Russia that allow deforestation in natural areas for transport and infrastructure, and progress on plans to explore and drill for oil and gas in the US Arctic.
The findings come in a collection of research papers published in a special issue of the journal Parks by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which seek to understand the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on the environment.
Brent Mitchell, co-editor of the journal, said: “What we learnt from our 150 contributors is this: if the shock of Covid-19 is not enough to make humanity wake up to the suicidal consequences of the destructive course of much misguided development, with its onslaught on nature, then it is hard to see how further calamities – far worse than the current pandemic – can be avoided.”
His comments echo those of the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, who has warned: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”
A survey of park rangers in more than 60 countries found that about one in five had lost their jobs because of pandemic-related budget cuts, with those in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia worst affected. More than half of protected areas in Africa reported that they had had to stop or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations.
While many protected areas have maintained core operations, communities living near nature reserves and national parks have been particularly hard hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic and drops in visitors.