Keeping an eye on nature: a new struggle for the environment in a post pandemic world.

By Dr Markus Ederer and Dmitry Gorshkov

Ever since COVID-19 first splashed across the headlines at the end of 2019, nature conservationists have seen a myriad of new issues appear on their ever-growing agenda. As we struggle to restore the collapsing economy in a post-pandemic world, we risk sacrificing environmental protection in favor of industrial recovery. The frightening outcomes of this shift in priorities may lead to the rapid degradation of nature, acceleration of climate change and deterioration of living conditions for thousands of people around the world.

So, what about the environment and climate goals in a post pandemic world?

Markus Ederer, Ambassador of the EU Delegation to Russia:

We are facing a threat that knows no border and is aggravating. We cannot guard against it individually, by isolation or the shot of a vaccine. I am not talking about the Coronavirus, but about global warming. In just over 9 months, the Coronavirus pandemic has claimed a million lives. A globally shared sense of emergency makes it a matter of time for it to be defeated. But the human and financial cost of climate change is increasingly causing affliction to communities worldwide, tormenting indigenous people and urban communities with extreme weather incidents and with only unfavourable outlooks in sight.

The choice of tackling these challenges one at a time is not an option. Climate goals need to remain in focus, while the world is taming the pandemic and its aftermath.

In this joint battle for environment and climate preservation, the EU and Russia are natural partners with a clear common interest.

Climate change mitigation is a constant priority for the EU and its partnerships and scientific cooperation. With the aim to make its economy sustainable and free of greenhouse gas by 2050, the EU will spend at least 30% of its budget to support climate objectives including during post-pandemic economic recovery. But here, as with the coronavirus, looking after one’s backyard is barely enough to reverse the situation.

The vast Russian forests and wetlands are a major source of carbon capture in the Northern hemisphere, contributing substantially to climate change mitigation. In the EU, we believe that preserving Russian nature and biodiversity is paramount for the state of climate globally. This vision of EU-Russia cooperation on the environment is best described in one of our EU- WWF Russia joint projects “People for Nature”.

Both Russian projects showcased in the Paris Peace Forum are on the environment and climate. I take this as an unequivocal sign of change: environment and climate have entered dynamically in international cooperation projects.

Dmitry Gorshkov, WWF-Russia Director:

The effective answer to the aggravated threat to nature is intensified public control over the impact of industries on the environment and the creation of a truly independent and transparent global community of ecological NGOs capable of monitoring industrial activity.

To make the move towards greater environmental protection and a more sustainable economy, people need to have access to full and transparent information about the impact of industries on the environment. At the moment, many enterprises are able to keep their polluting activities and environmental accidents under wraps. As a result, we may not truly know the damaging repercussions of their activities for years to come.

However, if local communities and NGOs are empowered and equipped with cutting-edge skills and technologies to control industrial activities, these enterprises will have a much harder time concealing their environmental impact.

The new technologies have proved to be incredibly helpful in combating the issue: free data from satellites can be used to monitor the environmental impact of various industries. This means that activists are no longer limited by their location and can, for example, keep an eye on river pollution in Altay from the city of Nizhny Novgorod, which is over 2,500 km away.

Through the use of free public monitoring tools, people can now take an active role in the environmental protection movement without leaving their homes. Considering the current coronavirus restrictions on movement, these tools are now more important than ever.

Views expressed in this publication are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Markus Ederer was born in Germany in 1957. He graduated in Law at the University of Passau. Since October 2017, Markus Ederer has been Ambassador of the European Union to the Russian Federation. Between January 2014 until October 2017, he held the post of State Secretary at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From January 2011 to January 2014, Markus Ederer was in Beijing as Ambassador of the European Union to China and Mongolia. From December 2005 to December 2010, he was the Head of Policy Planning in the German Federal Foreign Office. His career in the German Foreign Office started in 1990 when he was the Personal Secretary to Minister of State Helmut Schäfer. He then went on to Moscow where he served in the Economic Department of the German Embassy. In 1993 he returned to Germany where he served in the Press Department and later became Deputy Spokesperson for the German Foreign Office. In 1999 he moved to Brussels where he took up the post of Head of Cabinet of the Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. In April 2002 he became the Director of Political/Economic Assessment in the Federal Intelligence Service in Germany. Markus Ederer holds a Doctoral Degree in International Law (University of Passau) and a Master of Laws degree (University of Miami).

Dmitry Gorshkov has PhD in zoology, has been engaged in preserving Russian nature for more than 20 years. Between 1999 and 2013, he first worked as a researcher at the Volga-Kama State Nature Reserve, later becoming its Deputy Director. From 2013 to 2018, he headed the Sikhote-Alin State Nature Reserve. Dmitry joined WWF-Russia in 2018 as the Director of Biodiversity Conservation Program. In 2020 Dmitry Gorshkov was appointed to the position of director of the organization.

Dmitry Gorshkov was awarded the Certificate of Merit from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation “For many years of diligent work and making a great personal contribution to the development of conservation and the system of special protected natural areas” as well as the badge “For Contribution to Nature Conservation.”

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