Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
The COVID-19 pandemic is spurring some countries to tackle another pressing global issue: climate change.
The Story: As countries seek new paths toward economic recovery, some are using COVID-19 stimulus packages as an opportunity to advance climate policies while others are taking advantage of unpopulated streets and cities to develop green infrastructure, reported Umair Irfan for Vox. South Korea is in the process of pushing forward a climate policy that will make it the first East Asian country to pledge a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, achieved by supporting a carbon tax, renewable energy and divesting from fossil fuels. In Europe, many governments are requiring businesses, including airline companies, to commit to reducing emissions in order to receive a bailout, while cities such as Milan and Berlin are adding bike and pedestrian lanes to their empty streets.
The Big Picture: “This crisis offers us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild our economy in order to withstand the next shock coming our way: climate breakdown,” wrote former and current central European bankers Andrew Bailey and François Villeroy. “Unless we act now, the climate crisis will be tomorrow’s central scenario and, unlike COVID-19, no one will be able to self-isolate from it.” Not only could green recovery measures such as those that support renewable energy and natural climate solutions help tackle climate change, they could also help the economy recover faster, a recent study revealed. According to the report, green policies have historically resulted in greater immediate economic benefits and higher long-term savings compared with traditional stimulus packages during economic downturns.
A new public health measure from the Chinese government could help save the most heavily trafficked animal in the world.
The Story: For the first time in decades, China announced that pangolin scales are not included in its 2020 approved list of traditional Chinese medicine, reported Dina Fine Maron for National Geographic. As the most highly trafficked animal in the world, pangolin populations have been decimated due to demand for their meat and scales for medicines and edible delicacies in Southeast Asia. Prior to the decision to remove pangolins from the list, China also recently upgraded pangolins’ protected status to a “Class 1” level, which bans the domestic trade of this critically endangered species.
The Big Picture: “This is the single greatest measure that could be taken to save the pangolins,” says Peter Knights, CEO of the environmental nonprofit WildAid. “This sends a clear message that there are alternatives in traditional Chinese medicine and so you don’t need to use pangolins.” While there is no clear evidence that COVID-19 originated in pangolins specifically, research shows that the global wildlife trade is a driving force for the transmission of zoonotic diseases because species come into contact with other species — and diseases — that they would not have encountered naturally in the wild. Experts agree that limiting the trade of wild animals could help prevent future pandemics, while saving wildlife species around the world.
A carbon-storing powerhouse could soon fall victim to rising sea levels.
The Story: A new study projects that the world’s mangroves could die out within the next 30 years if sea-level rise accelerates by more than 6 millimeters (0.236 inches) per year, reported Justine Calma for The Verge. By studying data from mangroves that have survived in the past 10,000 years from more than 78 sites, researchers determined that 6 millimeters (0.236 inches) of annual sea-level rise would submerge mangrove roots for too long, drowning and killing the trees. While mangroves have historically adapted to rising sea levels by shifting inland, coastal development and human activities are preventing this movement — and putting these critical ecosystems even more at risk, experts say.
The Big Picture: Around the world, mangroves provide an estimated US$ 82 billion in flood risk prevention annually for coastal communities and store up to 10 times more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. Yet nearly half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost in the past 50 years due to development and unsustainable fishing. To conserve these carbon powerhouses and the benefits they provide, experts agree that humans must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow sea-level rise, while protecting and restoring existing mangroves.
A recent report finds that in the face of severe weather, nature-based infrastructure such as floodplains and mangroves is often more cost-effective — and just plain effective — than traditional infrastructure such as dams and sea walls.
Cover image: A pangolin in Cambodia (© Conor Wall)