Nearly 22 countries, including India, proposed or enacted changes that weakened environmental regulation, endangering protected areas across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic, research has found.
The paper published by International Union for Conservation of Nature last week showed that the pandemic impacted protected areas around the globe beyond just rollbacks. It led to job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols, and deaths among indigenous communities living in those lands.
"During a time when all eyes were obviously on COVID-19, you had governments reducing budgets or weakening environmental protection," said Mariana Napolitano Ferreira, head of science at WWF Brazil and one of 150 researchers who wrote the report.
For India, the paper cited 31 infrastructure proposals for national parks and sanctuaries, extraction and development projects, including coal mining. For the United States, Ferreira said that President Joe Biden's administration was expected to stop rollbacks enacted by the Trump administration during the pandemic, The Wire reported.
However, for India and Brazil, it was unclear. For Brazil, the paper cited a proposal sent by President Jair Bolsonaro to Congress, allowing mining, oil and gas extraction within the indigenous reserves.
Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles had earlier argued for deregulation of environmental protection amid the pandemic.
The researchers have advised the countries to create new protected areas and make the existing ones economically stable to reduce the risk of a new pandemic.
The report also highlighted the countries that expanded or strengthened the protected areas last year, including countries in the European Union, Pakistan and New Zealand. These countries have included nature protection in their stimulus packages as well.