WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY: A Covid-19 silver lining?

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WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY: A Covid-19 silver lining?


Since 1974 when the United Nations introduced World Environment Day, it is celebrated annually on June 5. The theme for 2020 is “Time for Nature” and will be focusing on biodiversity.

We asked Johan Heymans, Head of Department of Short-term Insurance in the School of Financial Planning and Insurance, to share his views on the relationship between the celebration of this day and short-term insurance.

“The biodiversity focus for this year’s world environment day is very appropriate and three specific aspects about it stand out for me. Humans, Covid-19 and of course, Short-term insurance.  Before I elaborate, first a definition or two of biodiversity.

According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary, biodiversity is “the existence of a large number of different kinds of animals and plants which make a balanced environment.”  Webster’s New World College Dictionary refers to it as “diversity, or variety, in the living things in a particular area, region, etc. at a particular time.”


Without a doubt, humans are a part of biodiversity.  In fact, they arguably play the biggest role in it. Mother Nature has been perfectly balanced for all things to live in harmony.  It is unfortunately humans who are responsible for imbalances in nature. Therefore, safe to say, we humans are the disruptors in the otherwise perfect biodiversity. 


Whilst we can all agree that Covid-19 is a pandemic of massive proportions and implications, there is at least one silver lining around this otherwise dark cloud. Positive stories and news of the biodiversity repairing itself in miraculous ways, are the cause of this silver lining.

A pride of lions bathing in the sun on a deserted game park road, pods of dolphins playing in the waves of an otherwise overcrowded Durban beach and crystal clear water in the normal, muddy canals of Venice, is but a couple of these examples we regularly see in the news and on social media.

Short-term insurance

If Mother Nature could manage to restore biodiversity balances in the couple of months since humans were locked up, surely, we owe her a helping hand to keep that going once the restrictions are lifted again.

The well-known reports of judge Mervyn King implemented by companies as guidelines to corporate management, form an important part of several of our Short-term Insurance courses as well. The latest version, King IV, refers specifically to corporate social responsibility which addresses the way in how businesses should deal with the environment. This underpins the fact that the Short-term industry recognizes the importance of biodiversity.

The Short-term insurance industry assists with biodiversity protection. Environmental impact (also called pollution liability) insurance is available and offers cover against contamination by pollutant substances like chemicals, oil, etc. A recent example on our doorstep here in Cape Town comes to mind.

In 2009 the Turkish owned Seli 1 oil tanker became stranded on the Milnerton beach.  Carrying coal and crude oil on board, posed an environmental risk and threatened coastal marine and human biodiversity. The story had an eventual happy ending as all oil and coal and the shipwreck were successfully cleaned up and removed. Oil spills to the Milnerton and Blouberg beaches were minor and cleaned up, as was done for some 150 penguins too. The process however took four years to complete and about R40 million had to be paid by our Government. Were proper short-term insurance in place by the ship owners, the whole drawn-out operation could have been handled within weeks and covered by an environmental pollution liability policy. Swift reaction after accidental spillage to restore the biodiversity as best and fast possible are at the core of these insurance products.

Whilst first prize would be to prevent pollutants from entering into the environment, where this is not possible and environmental damage occurs, having appropriate and adequate insurance in place would go a long way to minimize such damage and assist with the restoration or rehabilitation with the environment.

This year we will be celebrating World Environment Day amidst a pandemic that has taught us in no uncertain terms to take stock of our health and to change our habits to avoid the spread of disease. Similarly, we should also reflect on the health of our world, and what we can do in - both our personal capacity or in our businesses - to ensure that we exhibit the same care and consideration for the health of our environment. Let us see the learnings from this remarkable time we live in, and changes we implement, as the silver lining to the Covid-19 cloud!

Johan Heymans, Head of Department of Short-term Insurance in the School of Financial Planning and Insurance.



IODSA. 2016. King IV Report. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 2020-05-30]

Times Live. 2012. Turkish Seli 1 wreck to be removed before next winter. 10 September 2012. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 2020-05-30]

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. 2020. Oxford University Press

Webster’s New World College Dictionary. 2010. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.



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18 Jun 2020