Impacts of COVID-19 on the Environment

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Started at the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China at the end of 2019, the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has already affected and still distressing millions of lives in different countries and territories around the globe. With its main characteristics of infecting the person’s respiratory system, having influenza-like symptoms, and is transmitted through oral and nasal droplets, the primary measure to combat its continuous spreading is to enforce community quarantine among areas with the confirmed transmission.

Although the quarantine does not show a significant improvement in the number of cases, for as of writing there are more than 3 million cases worldwide, the colossal discontinuing of the people’s normal daily routine brought by it has irrefutably huge impact in the environment. The causality of this global pandemic to environmental changes should be carefully analyzed to help us decide where to head next and what to prioritize about the underlying environmental concerns and issues after this health crisis reach its endpoint.

As each country combats the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists claimed that the implementation of community quarantine and lockdowns have significant changes and a huge impact on Earth’s air quality. There is a decline in the amount of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions produced over the lockdown period. In China, where the COVID-19 originated, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019 (Henriques, 2020).

The impact is also evident in one of the world’s busiest cities, New York, as the levels of pollution have reduced by nearly 50%. Other countries like Spain and the UK also present the same result. The trend of global emissions can only be determined by how long the coronavirus pandemic lasts. But scientists have already proclaimed that 2020 may still see a drop in global emissions of 0.3%.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the world is likely to warm by 1.5 deg C between 2030 and 2052 if global emissions continue to increase at the current rate (Yanti Sulistiawati & Linnan, 2020).

With the travel bans imposed, NASA researcher, Jennifer Kaiser is examining its impact on air quality on airports. Her research analyzes the level of nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde, which is emitted by the burning of fuels in airplanes and cars engine. These emissions are one of the major contributors to ozone formation and other air toxins that can cause respiratory irritation when inhaled. Although the results are still yet to come, it is safe to say that there is a big improvement with the dropped in air traffic. But it also suggests an underlying issue about the consumption and burning of fuels in aircraft and vehicles that can only be prevented by transitioning to electric-powered vehicles.

This pandemic has not only imposed positive environmental changes but may also challenge and worsen the current environmental status.

Climate change impacts are often portrayed as something which will happen in the future, or near future, while the threat posed by Covid-19 is portrayed as urgent and deadly (Yanti Sulistiawati & Linnan, 2020).

This may also reflect the difference between mitigation and adaptation strategies to combat climate change. Seeing a small improvement in air quality does not take away the threat of climate change in the future. But people and the government might feel false hope thus coming unprepared in the battle with the threat of climate change. COVID-19 has no negative absolute physical impact on the environment but rather on how people will perceive the effect of this pandemic as it affects the environment.

The fact that the increase of the amount of pollution correlates to the financial and economic growth of a country is the philosophy being upheld by each country, which could cause a rapid change as the world transitions back to normal. Industrial activity will upsurge to their limit to compensate for the loss due to lockdowns and quarantine causing a sudden rise in the global emissions contributing to increasing greenhouse gas production rather than reducing it.

The pandemic has also disrupted the environmental diplomacy efforts by postponing the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference that is crucial as nations were scheduled to submit enhanced nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement (Wikipedia, 2020).

Leaving all these nations some time to delay the necessary environmental efforts that are used to mitigate climate change.

This situation could become worse and even more chaotic if we keep on delaying our actions toward these environmental issues. No quarantine or pandemic is needed to start caring about the future of the environment. Climate change is real and deadly.

The significant death rate of Covid-19 would be nothing compared with the possibility of injuries, illnesses, and deaths from extreme weather and climate events, malnutrition, heat stress, and malaria as climate change impacts (Yanti Sulistiawati & Linnan, 2020).

There will be no better day after this pandemic end if climate change demonstrates us its rage. And when that time comes, no quarantine or lockdown could aid our distress.

References:

Henriques, M. (2020, March 27). Will Covid-19 have a lasting impact on the environment? Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-covid-19-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-environment

NASA. (2020, April 30). NASA Probes Environment, COVID-19 Impacts, Possible Links. Retrieved from NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-probes-environment-covid-19-impacts-possible-links

Pneumonia of unknown cause — China. (2020, January 5). Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/csr/don/05-january-2020-pneumonia-of-unkown-cause-china/en/

Wikipedia. (2020, May 4). Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the environment. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_on_the_environment

World Health Organization. (2020, May 3). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Situation Report — 104. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200503-covid-19-sitrep-104.pdf?sfvrsn=53328f46_2

Yanti Sulistiawati, L., & Linnan, D. K. (2020, May 2). Covid-19 offers preview of impact of environmental threats. Retrieved from The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/covid-19-offers-preview-of-impact-of-environmental-threats

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