Will COVID-19 have a lasting impact on the environment and climate change?

Pandemic, Covid 19, Coronavirus, COVID-19

In a matter of three months, the world has been transformed. The health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of catastrophic. In an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic, cities are silent, many factories are closed, paralyzing both air and ground travel, cruise ships sit idle in the harbors, bustling pubs, bars, theatres, sports fields lay empty and more people are practicing social distancing and working remotely. Surely, this must be good for the environment?

There is a silver lining in spite that everyday life has come to an abrupt halt, our planet has been given a chance to breathe. The last three-month worldwide disruption caused by Covid-19 has resulted in numerous impacts on the environment. I can see it in my backyard with plenty of birds, squirrels and rabbits. According to many published reports, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Satellite readings of air pollution levels over China, Iran and Italy show that the regions hit hardest by the COVID-19 have also caused air pollution levels to decline dramatically.

The pandemic has also resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference to 2021. The global shutdown caused by the virus has given environmentalists and many scientists an opportunity to conduct studies as to the effects of lock-down on greenhouse gases and climate change.

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR), ESA, NASA’s Pandora Project, the European Space Agency (ESA), China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment and much other worldwide organization have concluded that in China, lockdowns resulted in a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions and air pollution.

Just last week, Carbon Brief (CB) published that the COVID-19 pandemic report will result in cut carbon emissions by an estimated 5% of 2019’s global total. While this is encouraging news, experts say it still may not be adequate for meeting Paris Agreement goals to keep global warming from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius – By no means a “silver lining” for the environment.

China produced approximately 200 million fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide than the same period in 2019, due to the reduction in air traffic, oil refining, and coal consumption. Models by Earth Systems scientists estimated that this reduction may have saved at least 77,000 lives. According to NASA scientists, the drop in NO2 pollution began in Wuhan, China and slowly spread to the rest of the world.

Venice, one of Italy’s biggest tourist attractions, has noticed that the water in the city’s canals is crystal clear with greater visibility in the absence of diesel-powered boats. Venice’s waterways sawfishes, swans and dolphins for the first time in years. While levels of pollution in New York was reduced by nearly 50% because of the stay-at-home order. One can see numerous photos on social media to hail the positive impact the coronavirus is having on the environment.

Many Environmentalists are glad to see the change but remain skeptical that these changes will cause lasting effects. The stay-at-home order has definitely put a smile on mother nature due to this energy-friendly quarantine lifestyle. However, once everything reverts to normal, will our old habits of wastage and degradation of the earth continue as life returns to normal?

Once the crisis is over, the Trump administration will disregard any scientific climate-mitigating initiatives and focus on the stock market and winning the elections.

A healthy planet means fewer diseases and we should stop encroaching on the fragile ecological systems. What lessons we are going to learn from this crisis? It is time to restore our forests, stop deforestation and stop oil drilling. Any positive environmental impact in the wake of this abhorrent pandemic should be in our changing consumption habits towards a cleaner and greener environment.

The lesson learned should be the climate crisis could hit the world as rapidly as coronavirus has; can our world leaders act now as an investment into the future and do a better job of preparing for climate disaster than they did in preparing for this pandemic.