How to Create a Nature-Friendly Recovery
By Marie Quinney and Gabriela Martinez
This article is part of The Davos Agenda.
During 2020, many of us saw images of deserted urban areas being reclaimed by animals and heard reports of carbon dioxide emissions plummeting as transportation ground to a halt. A new analysis shows that the U.S. had reached its lowest level of emissions in three decades.
It would be easy to assume that COVID-19 allowed nature to thrive. However, we must not prematurely celebrate nature's comeback.
Far from downplaying glimmers of hope and beauty that were welcomed interruptions to an otherwise difficult year, acknowledging that these have little impact in the long run will serve us better to achieve meaningful progress.
The outlook on the coming decade may be bleak if we do not seize the narrowing window of opportunity that we have to make systemic changes. By doing this, we can both prevent similar crises in the future and create sustainable, healthy and equitable jobs, societies and economies. The pandemic made an unquestionably strong case for a shift towards a net-zero, nature-positive global economy and, thankfully, we have the knowledge and the tools to make it happen.
Nature Bouncing Back?
Amidst the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy entering a global recession, you could be forgiven for thinking that it wasn't all bad news.
We were inundated with delightful images of previously unseen animals strolling through city streets. Mountain goats explored Welsh towns, deer were spotted congregating outside metro stations in Japan and pumas took to the streets of Santiago, Chile.
Many ecosystems also appeared to have been given time to regenerate, being temporarily spared humanity's polluted hand. The canals of Venice famously turned clear and plants started to make a comeback in built-up areas such as parks and city squares.
Similarly, due to the slowdown of economic and social activities, air quality improved in many places around the world, including megacities including Delhi, London, New York and various cities in China. Global CO2 emissions and total nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions decreased by as much as 30% and, as car traffic plummeted and industrial production slowed down, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions followed. It seemed that at least the atmosphere was benefiting from the global pandemic.
NO₂ levels in the air above India (U.S. date format). World Economic Forum
Lockdowns also highlighted both a fundamental human need for nature and the divisions between those who had access to it and those who did not. For those with a balcony, view of nature or a garden, the lockdowns may not have felt as oppressive. People craved their own patch of green and marvelled at the sight of animals roaming around freely. Nature, we may have thought, was healing.
Sadly, however, the breather that nature appeared to get is not only temporary but is extremely localized. Other areas have not been having the same luck.
Nature Loss and Climate Change on the Rise
If not for COVID-19, the year 2020 would have been remembered for environmental disasters that continued despite scattered improvements. COVID-19 news domination was punctuated by reports of wildfires, flooding, tropical storms and the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.
As pollution levels decreased in many cities, the effects were countered by increased emissions from home activities. Although nitrogen dioxide declined sharply in Italy, China and New Zealand, COVID-19 responses triggered the increase of global ozone concentrations, which contributes to climate change.
Lockdowns in countries with high levels of biodiversity also restricted the ability of governments and communities to protect wildlife. Incidences of illegal poaching and deforestation increased in South America, Asia and Africa. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 30% in March 2020 compared to the previous year and forest fires lit by land grabbers broke records in Colombia. Illegal fishing is also on the rise in many areas, with fishermen taking advantage of a drop in enforcement capacity.
COVID-19 has also halted the nature-based tourism industry. In many countries, communities relied on this as a source of income, in addition to these funds being used to protect nature. For countries like the Seychelles and Vanuatu, tourism accounts for 30% and 45% of their GDP, respectively. The economic crisis may prevent such tourism from returning for quite some time, while conservation is unlikely to be perceived as a priority for government spending.
The improvements witnessed in biodiversity and emissions during the lockdowns are unlikely to remain, and the situation is on course to get worse than before the pandemic. For the climate, there is historical precedent for this. There were also dips in emissions during the 2008 financial crisis, yet emissions bounced back as economies recovered.
Today, experts are concerned that global emissions in 2021 will rise beyond 2019 levels. In addition, many countries have been loosening environmental regulations and, in some countries, early recovery packages were targeted towards bailouts for oil and high-carbon infrastructure.
Human activity is destroying our natural world. World Economic Forum Nature Risk Rising
Towards a Net-Zero, Nature-Positive Recovery
While the lockdowns provided a glimpse of how life could be different for our planet, this will only be the case through decisive and deliberate action. It shouldn't take a pandemic, with devastating consequences on millions of lives, to let nature reappear and emissions drop. Rather than being good for the environment, COVID-19 only showed us how unsuitable our current socioeconomic systems are.
Some stimulus packages are acknowledging the importance of placing nature at the heart of our recovery, and in September world leaders pledged to reverse nature loss by 2030. However, on average, the pandemic is likely to reinforce negative environmental trends with stimulus packages in only seven of 25 major economies estimated to have a net positive impact for the climate and nature.
As world leaders discussed stimulus and recovery packages to keep the economy afloat, milestone global meetings to decide how to address biodiversity loss and climate change had to be postponed to 2021. These are critical opportunities to reset our economies and societies for the better. Governments and businesses must focus on addressing some of the increasingly indefensible realities of our societies and economies that this pandemic has uncovered. For example, they must ensure that economic activity is regenerative, rather than destructive, to nature, that businesses reduce their carbon footprint, and that there are sustainable, equitable jobs.
As the World Economic Forum's recent reports have found, more than half of the world's GDP is highly or moderately dependent on nature, and opting for a nature-positive economy in key sectors could create 395 million jobs by 2030. We are likely to, therefore, pay a high price in the future for overlooking its importance in decisions made today.
Similarly, in the High Ambition Coalition's Statement on Resilient Recovery, it stressed the importance of aligning green measures from stimulus packages with climate ambitions. The UN's 2020 Emission Gap Report highlighted that recovery investments in climate action could cut up to 25% off the emissions projected for 2030. Countries need effective policies to support zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, reduce fossil fuel subsidies, stop new coal plants and promote nature-based solutions.
The pandemic transcended borders in more ways than one. We saw unprecedented levels of international cooperation, with information sharing and the deployment of healthcare personnel and equipment. It also taught us that, when we work together, we can enact great change. This needs to be channelled into the fight against nature loss and climate change too.
COVID-19 offered many the chance to stop and reflect on the sort of world we belong to. If nothing else, the pandemic revealed that our economies are inherently vulnerable to shocks. Images of animals reclaiming once-bustling city streets, and a dip in greenhouse gas emissions were a relief during a time of such angst, but they are exceptions that are likely to be long forgotten unless we work towards a better future. Designing net-zero, nature-positive stimulus packages is key in preventing future outbreaks, improving economic and environmental stability and enabling people to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- UN Leader Calls for Green Coronavirus Recovery on Earth Day ... ›
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Young Climate Leaders Conclude Mock COP26 With Calls for ... ›
- A 'Green Stimulus' Could Battle Three Crises: Coronavirus ... ›
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›