Posted on 15 May 2020
While the focus is naturally on the COVID-19 pandemic, the much larger environmental challenges, from climate change to biodiversity loss, have not disappeared.
How things can change…
The six weeks that we have spent in “lock-down” sheltering from the COVID-19 have gone by relatively quickly – but still, the time before the virus came to our region seems like eons past.
At WWF-CEE we have adapted relatively well to the new circumstances. We have been fortunate not to have had any sickness among staff or partners. Many of us were already accustomed to working virtually (not virtually working!). Most challenging has been juggling work at home with additional cares, particularly children and home-schooling duties.
Although many activities have been moved online or have been postponed. WWF-Bulgaria
scrambled and within 2 days had very successfully reinvented Earth Hour
as an online event. Bulgaria led worldwide in "Voice for the Planet
" sign-ups that week.
Individual face-to-face fundraising has been made impossible. Fortunately, we have longer-term projects and financing that can pull us through at least for the short- to medium-term. However, given the new circumstances, donors may cut or reconsider giving, so our long-term financial stability is uncertain.
While the focus is naturally on the COVID-19 pandemic, the much larger environmental challenges, from climate change to biodiversity loss, have not disappeared
. If anything, the current epidemic has served to underline the much larger environmental challenges that our civilisation is facing, as well as the real possibilities we have to address them.
In the past 40 years we humans have wiped 60% of wildlife populations from the planet. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the link between zoonotic diseases - those transmitted from animals to humans - and wildlife trade into sharp focus. Abnormally warm and snowless winters are becoming normal as our emissions of greenhouse gases push average temperatures well beyond the 1.5 degree increase that scientists tell us must be halted to avoid catastrophe.
The chances of viruses passing from wild and domestic animals to humans may be increased by the destruction and modification of natural ecosystems, the illegal or uncontrolled trade of wild species and the unhygienic conditions under which wild and domestic species are mixed and marketed. Cracking down on illegal and unregulated wildlife trade is important to prevent future zoonotic pandemics
and safeguard people’s well-being and lives. Biodiversity must be protected in order to protect our own health as well as the planet's
The COVID-19 pandemic is raining illness and death and has brought our economies to a standstill. But it is also giving us a glimpse of a different future
. Future pandemics will only be avoided if people learn to live in harmony with nature.
Wildlife is venturing into areas suddenly abandoned by humans. The sudden lockdown of our societies has led to a steep drop in greenhouse gas emissions and of other pollution. As a result, cities across our region are reporting the cleanest air in years.
The returning wildlife and cleaner air reminds us that biodiversity can recover and demonstrates that effective climate action is possible
However clear that reminder is – there is a real possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic will provide an excuse for business as usual, all over again, causing us to slip back rather than bounce forward to a more sustainable future. This is why a Green Recovery
from the pandemic is so important. As the EU and national governments mobilise unprecedented billions of Euros to resuscitate our economies, it is crucial that these investments do not serve to make matters worse. WWF-CEE is joining the European Commission, 15 EU Ministers, including from Slovakia and Romania, as well as dozens of leaders from across Europe in politics, civil society and business in calling for a recovery aligned with the European Green Deal
Now especially, we need to redouble our efforts for a living planet. In the first weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown, Ukrainian and Bulgarian authorities apprehended sturgeon poachers
; and WWF-Austria reported a sharp increase in poaching birds of prey
in Central and Eastern Europe under cover of the COVID-19 movement restrictions.
Despite the lockdown, we at WWF are continuing our efforts to restore harmony between nature and people, and to reduce the risk of pandemics in the future. WWF-CEE is working with Interpol
to train local law enforcement, prosecutors, police and customs officers to be more effective in their fight against illegal logging, planting new riparian forests
, saving protected areas such as Pirin National Park
, and working on the root causes of poaching of strictly protected sturgeon
and large carnivores
such as lynx, brown bears and wolves. Our ultimate aim is a New Deal for Nature and People
. Halting biodiversity and habitat loss by 2030 will benefit the health of both people and planet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, and reminded us of the seriousness of the challenges we are facing -- as well as the real possibilities we have to address them. Let’s seize this chance. Together possible.