The world has been transformed in a matter of months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands have now died from the diseases, and millions more have fallen ill. As a result, governments all over the world have implemented partial or whole city lockdown and travel restrictions, the likes that have not been seen since the second world war. While of these are aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19, they have also led to some unexpected consequences. With industries shut down, businesses closed down, and fewer cars on the road, carbon emissions have drastically dropped. Cities like New York have seen pollution levels dropped by over 50% since measures to contain the virus came in place. In Europe, and Asia, satellite images show large nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions in the atmosphere have faded away.
How is Covid-19 Impacting The Environment?
The profound changes on the environment all over the world could only have happened as a result of an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19. However, it is not certain how long these dips in emissions will be. It is likely that when the pandemic eventually subsidies, carbon and pollutant emissions will bounce back and our clear-skied interlude will be confined to our memory, or will there could be long-lasting effects if we continue practices that limit our carbon footprint as we see now.
What is clear for now is that as long as the pandemic persists, emissions will remain lower, but when measures are eventually lifted, movement and travel behaviors will begin to return normal, but it would do the planet some good persisting with behaviors that have seen us witness clear blue skies and improved air quality in our cities. While many workplaces may have fully adopted to remote working reducing office commute, there is still the fear that many people might be encouraged to travel more again due to the cabin-fever of self-isolation or take up long-distance trips they had put off because of the coronavirus and causing more CO2 and greenhouse gases to be put back into the atmosphere.
At the moment, the coronavirus is having a negative impact on sustainability, as talk of global warming and the impending climate crisis have taken a back burner in people’s minds, as the more pressing concern of immediately saving lives takes precedence. It also threatens local efforts to meet the climate commitments (Sustainable Development Goals) that have already been made, such as delays in activity and enforcement duties.
It has made events that encourage discussions around climate difficult with mass gatherings prohibited. However, a silver lining is that digital activism is replacing the hitherto impossible physical protests. Another silver lining is that social science studies have shown that humans generally keep to habits having practiced them for a while. Based on that, these times could lead to the introduction of lasting helpful habits that coincidentally are good for the climate like less traveling and cutting down due to the shortages being experienced from stockpiling.
If there’s anything the coronavirus outbreak has shown, it Is the fact that if we treat the threat of climate change with the same urgency we are treating this health crisis, we could prevent an even worse future ahead. There is still hope since community action already taken will impact climate in the longer term. Self-isolation has afforded people a good opportunity to take stock of their consumption. Of course, no one would have wanted emissions to be lowered in this way. The coronavirus pandemic has taken a grim toll on lives, jobs, health services, and mental health. But if anything, we now know that communities and people look out for each other and this lesson will be invaluable in dealing with climate change.