Coronavirus chaos, coal collapse, permafrost thaw: 3 stories you may have missed

© Conservation International/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

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.

1. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a break for nature — let’s make sure there is one after the crisis 

Conservation International’s Executive Vice President urges countries to strengthen protections for nature during coronavirus lockdowns. 

The Story: Reports show that deforestation, poaching and illegal mining in the tropics are on the rise during the pandemic — and governments must refocus enforcement efforts in response to these illicit activities, according to Conservation International’s Executive Vice President Sebastian Troëng. In a piece for the World Economic Forum co-authored by Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, and professor Edward Barbier, Troëng urged governments to prioritize natural climate solutions and the protection of mangroves, forests and peatlands as countries rebuild their economies.

The Big Picture: “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates how much we depend on one another — one humanity living on one planet — for our health systems as well as for our food systems and supply chains,” wrote Troëng. Research shows that the destruction of nature is a leading driver of disease outbreaks — and that protecting nature could help prevent future pandemics. Additionally, creating policies that support nature could also help the global economy recover faster in the wake of COVID-19, explained Troëng.

Read more here

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the coal industry to the brink of collapse, experts say.

The Story: For the first time in its history, the United States is projected to generate more electricity from renewable power such as solar panels than from coal, reported Brad Plumer for The New York Times. Over the past decade, coal and oil usage has steadily decreased due to the improved technology and cost of renewable energy. According to recent projections, the coronavirus pandemic has steepened this decline as the demand for electricity from restaurants, businesses and offices has fallen sharply during lockdowns. 

The Big Picture: “The outbreak has put all the pressures facing the coal industry on steroids,” said Jim Thompson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit, a London-based market intelligence company. Since 2005, the sharp decline in coal has helped decrease U.S. emissions by 15 percent, which could help slow climate change if demand continues to drop. Additionally, a recent study suggested that green policies such as those that support renewable energy and energy efficiency could result in greater immediate economic benefits and higher long-term savings as the global economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Read more here.

Global warming could trigger the release of disease, emissions and toxins into the environment.

The Story: Along with releasing massive amounts of carbon, melting permafrost (frozen soil ) in the Arctic could unleash bacteria, toxic mercury and plastic pollution into the ocean and atmosphere, reported Tim Smedley for BBC. As climate change accelerates, scientists project that permafrost could release around 130 to 150 billion tons (roughly 117 trillion to 136 trillion kg) of carbon emissions into the atmosphere as it melts — which is equivalent to the total emissions that are projected to be released by the U.S. over the next 80 years. Recent reports also suggest that this thawing soil could release diseases such as smallpox, as well as marine microplastics, which were recently recorded for the first time ever in Arctic snow. 

The Big Picture: “The actions taken by the international community will have a substantial impact on just how much carbon will be released and how much of the permafrost will thaw,” said climate scientist Sue Natali. If countries do not take action to slow climate change, research shows that more than 70 percent of permafrost in the Arctic could melt by 2100. However, scientists agree that this value could be halved if countries drastically reduce their carbon emissions to slow global warming, which is accelerating twice as fast in the Arctic as the rest of the world.

Read more here

News Spotlight 

The wild animals at risk in lockdown

For communities in Peru and Kenya impacted by the sudden halt in eco-tourism, carbon credit programs are providing a steady source of revenue, explained Agustin Silvani, Conservation International’s senior vice president for conservation finance, in a recent article for BBC.

EU pledges to raise €20bn a year to boost biodiversity

In an effort to save plant and animal species from extinction, the European Union recently pledged to protect 30 percent of its lands and oceans by 2030. According to Conservation International’s Vice President and Managing Direct for Europe Herbert Lust, this will “help biodiversity flourish while at the same time protecting carbon-rich forests.”

Sponsored by Conservation International and featuring climate activist Greta Thunberg, the “Nature Now” film recently received two awards at the 2020 Webby Awards, an international award ceremony that honors content across the internet.


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Girdwood, Alaska (© Conservation International/ Russell A. Mittermeier)

Further reading: