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COVID-19 recovery can benefit biodiversity

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Science  22 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6493, pp. 838-839
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1430

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global crisis. Severe interruptions to international trade and travel are crippling economies and forcing reevaluation of economic, health, and environmental trajectories. Given that COVID-19 has triggered widespread changes in human behavior and reductions in pollution (1, 2), it presents opportunities for further positive change. Lockdowns have spurred households to rethink consumer needs, making now an opportune time to promote sustainable consumer choices that will become more engrained with prolonged exposure (1). How we emerge from the state of lockdowns will drive a new world economy with lasting effects on global biodiversity and supply chains (3, 4).

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to trigger enormous effects on biodiversity and conservation outcomes. This virus emerged due to wildlife exploitation (5), and the risk of new diseases increases with environmental degradation (6). Past events such as pandemics, wars, and financial crises have also triggered quantifiable environmental changes (7, 8). We can learn from such events to guide effective conservation strategy. National governments and intergovernmental organizations should adopt clear strategies to safeguard both biodiversity and human health throughout the COVID-19 recovery.

Active promotion and implementation of certain strategies could tip the balance in favor of positive biodiversity outcomes. We can reboot economies while protecting humans and nature by redesigning trade networks and supply chains to localize and better support sustainable consumer options. We can also strengthen environmental protections, improve environmental monitoring through better use of automation, and ensure that conservation funding schemes remain active.

Environmental policy has already moved in both directions. Although in some places, environmental protections have weakened (9), in others, governments have banned animal trade (3, 10) and aim to localize supply chains to increase resource security (11). Blanket wildlife trade bans are not the answer (3), but appropriately nuanced strategies that incorporate such measures should be encouraged. As we progress into a post–COVID-19 world, recovery strategies can be optimized to benefit biodiversity conservation and protect human health.

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