Prof. Dr. Aletta Bonn.

Economic packages for biodiversity and climate change

Has the debate surrounding biodiversity and climate change become a distant memory during the coronavirus crisis? Prof. Dr Aletta Bonn asks this question in her opinion piece. The biologist warns that politics and society need to look past the ongoing pandemic and do more to protect and preserve biological diversity to ensure human health in the long term.
Prof. Dr. Aletta Bonn.
Image: Bernhardt/iDiv

Commentary by Aletta Bonn

The past year has been challenging! We’ve all had to come to terms with the new situation of a pandemic, adapt our ways of working and find new ways to collaborate, teach and organize our work. At the same time, some of us have been confronted with challenging situations in our personal lives, having to balance our professional commitments with home-schooling or other care duties. In doing so, however, we have found many creative solutions and possibly even a renewed focus on the truly important aspects of teamwork.

The coronavirus pandemic has also drawn attention to biodiversity and its importance for human health; zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 are partly linked to the destruction of habitats. When we observe the serious consequences of unsustainably managing our natural resources, we can clearly see our responsibility for conserving biodiversity – both in Europe and in other parts of the world, in protected areas and in agricultural landscapes. We are sadly heading in the wrong direction with our current agricultural policy and our weak insect conservation law.

It is understandable that the tangible and urgent coronavirus pandemic has turned our attention to the here and now, but we must not lose sight of the drastic and urgent situation with respect to climate change and biodiversity loss! The effects of these changes are far more serious than the current pandemic. For example, Germany has seen a dramatic decline in plant species over the past 60 years – more than two thirds of over 2,000 species examined have been affected by such changes.


More than just good intentions

That means we urgently have to act on our good intentions and put our ideas into practice: There are important decisions to be made at this year’s UN Summit on Biodiversity, and the European ›Green Deal‹ has to be implemented.

The biodiversity and climate crisis are related and should be tackled together with health issues. The economic packages introduced in Germany to cushion the coronavirus crisis now have to be appropriately combined with sustainable biodiversity and climate action to ensure human health and well-being in the long term. The coronavirus pandemic has also given us the opportunity to think about our own working styles. As researchers, we have certainly reduced our carbon footprint in 2020, finding interactive ways to communicate with one another, and organizing and attending virtual workshops and conferences. Our iDiv conference, ›Biodiversity Post 2020‹, was also held online. We should definitely keep hold of our environmentally friendly research style after the pandemic.

And last but not least, many people now appreciate the positive impact of local biodiversity on our well-being since going into lockdown. Indeed, our urban parks and green spaces have become very popular. We recently carried out a study that demonstrates that urban green spaces play a central role for our health and well-being: The more roadside trees were in people’s immediate living environment, the fewer antidepressants were prescribed, especially for people from weaker socio-economic backgrounds. At the same time, trees can make a major contribution to climate action by binding CO2, cooling the atmosphere and filtering air pollutants. Our policy-makers and planners should therefore actively expand investments into biodiversity, both in urban and remote areas, as nature-based solutions to tackling both climate change and public healthcare.

About the author

Prof. Dr Aletta Bonn is a Professor of Ecosystem Services at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Head of the Ecosystem Services Department at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), which is part of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).


Aletta Bonn, Univ.-Prof. Dr
Head of the Research Group Ecosystem Services
Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Room B.02.24
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