New Study: To-date, More Global COVID-19-era Environmental Policies Threaten Nature Rather than Support it

March 11, 2021

PARKS journal special issue explores pandemic’s impact on conservation; includes guidance for building long-lasting support for protected, conserved areas


Arlington, VA (March 11, 2021) – As the world aims to build back exactly one-year from when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, a study released today as part of a PARKS journal special issue found that more countries undermined rather than supported nature in decisions made during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including national pandemic recovery policies. This is despite the fact science shows that taking care of nature and stopping deforestation are among the best strategies to prevent future zoonotic disease outbreaks at their source.

 The study, led by Dr. Rachel Golden Kroner, social scientist and environmental governance expert at Conservation International, analyzes the global environmental funding, policies and recovery packages that were announced or put into place between January and October 2020.

It found that 22 countries, including most of the world’s major economies, have proposed or advanced decisions to roll back or weaken environmental protections or reduce related budgets. Researchers also identified 64 individual examples of rollbacks – across all continents – that directly impact protected or conserved areas (PCAs) or the rights of Indigenous peoples who live on or near conserved land. The findings build on global trends. Earlier this year, a Vivid Economics report found that nations in the Group of 20, an organization representing more than 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, have pledged approximately US$ 14.9 trillion in stimulus funding with just 30% of that directed to sectors related to nature, with the majority undermining protections.

“Governments have to be thinking longer term and acting accordingly. Rolling back environmental protections and neglecting to build equitable funding plans that take people and nature into account is not in the best interest of our health, economies, or general well-being,” said Golden Kroner. “On the more positive side, we’re seeing growing support among the public for policies that protect nature. People are holding their leaders accountable and calling for actions that support environmental protections instead of rollbacks. In the United States for example, we’re seeing this shift following the election of President Biden.”

The paper, “COVID-era Policies and Economic Recovery Plans: Are Governments Building Back Better for Protected and Conserved Areas,” was co-authored by a diverse group of 16 researchers representing North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia - including two additional Conservation International scientists – Jennifer Howard, blue carbon senior director and Sebastian Troëng, executive vice president.

“There’s been a wide range of responses to the pandemic, but one thing is certain – continuing to invest in protected and conserved areas is essential for the health of nature, including ourselves,” said Golden Kroner, who also serves as co-chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, COVID and Protected Areas Task Force. “Research shows that when we prioritize the conservation of nature, we limit the risk of future zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. At the same time this could save trillions in global GDP. Investing now to prevent the next pandemic, rather than waiting to respond once it’s here is the smarter option.”

Between January and October 2020 nine countries and the European Union (EU) pledged nearly US$ 12.72 billion to enhance PCA governance efforts, restore protected land and expand conservation including Kenya and New Zealand, among others. In addition, ten countries pledged almost US$ 14.4 billion to support nature-based solutions, green infrastructure, sustainable tourism, and job creation in restoration – including but not limited to efforts in China, Germany, India and Nepal.

Golden Kroner also served as a co-author on a second paper in the PARKS special issue, “Rebuilding sustainable financing for resilient PCAs after COVID-19.” It explains the state of PCA funding before COVID-19 to better put the above-mentioned policy decisions in context.

“It’s important to understand the historical state of financial support and the threats facing protected and conserved areas prior to the pandemic,” said Golden Kroner. “COVID-19 and global crises highlight existing issues with PCA funding and offer an opportunity to build lasting change.”

The second paper lays out nine recommendations for building resilient economic support that could help ensure that national parks, reserves and conserved areas remain a central focus of global efforts to preserve nature. Notably, it includes suggestions for increased collaboration with local communities and Indigenous peoples.

The nine recommendations include:

  1. Improve spending effectiveness and efficiency;
  2. Ensure domestic budgets continue to support PCAs;
  3. Increase international development finance and philanthropy;
  4. Strengthen revenue generation from tourism;
  5. Support PCAs governed by indigenous peoples, local communities and private actors;
  6. Include local communities in PCA governance and benefits;
  7. Engage the finance sector;
  8. Attract private capital; and
  9. Continue to raise public support and interest in nature conservation.

“As we move forward from the pandemic as a global community, there is a great opportunity to rebuild economies in a way that values nature and those who depend on it, helping ensure a more equitable, sustainable and better future for us all,” Golden Kroner said.

The full PARKS journal special issue is a collection of new research papers written to consolidate scientific findings about the impacts of COVID-19 on global conservation efforts. Additional topics explored in the collaboration include the pandemic’s effect on anti-poaching patrols, employment in the conservation space, and research on the connection between nature and disease. These issues are discussed in the study “Drivers and causes of zoonotic diseases: an overview,” which is also co-authored by Golden Kroner.

The special issue includes a series of essays from global leaders that speak to the current state of the environment and what needs to be done to protect nature. Authors include two Conservation International voices - Juan Manuel Santos, former President of Colombia and Conservation International Arnhold Distinguished Fellow and Josefa Cariño Tauli, Conservation International Indigenous Fellow.



About Conservation International
Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature. Conservation International works in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation NewsFacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.