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August 24

COVID-19 and the Environment: What’s Changed and How we can Carry it Forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions and killed hundreds of thousands worldwide. This is truly a tragedy that will have impacts for years to come. These will be mainly in public health of course, but also other sectors and aspects of life. One of these aspects you may have seen during the pandemic online is the novel coronavirus’s effect on the environment. The main question is whether these environmental changes will carry forward, or just be a blip on the global-warming radar. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions and killed hundreds of thousands worldwide. This is truly a tragedy that will have impacts for years to come. These will be mainly in public health of course, but also other sectors and aspects of life. One of these aspects you may have seen during the pandemic online is the novel coronavirus’s effect on the environment. The main question is whether these environmental changes will carry forward, or just be a blip on the global-warming radar. 

COVID-19 Cut Carbon Emissions

As COVID-19 worsened around the world, government-imposed lockdowns took hold. Businesses closed, curfews imposed, social restrictions enacted, and the world came to a grinding halt. Much of the world was operating under strict public health guidelines. While the pandemic rages on, a consequential impact of lockdowns has been a reduction in pollution across the globe. Compared with 2019, levels of pollution in New York in 2020 were reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of 2020 as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered, and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019.  

As COVID-19 worsened around the world, government-imposed lockdowns took hold. Businesses closed, curfews imposed, social restrictions enacted, and the world came to a grinding halt. Much of the world was operating under strict public health guidelines. While the pandemic rages on, a consequential impact of lockdowns has been a reduction in pollution across the globe. Compared with 2019, levels of pollution in New York in 2020 were reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of 2020 as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered, and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019.  

The European Union has already made renewable energy a cornerstone of its COVID-19 economic recovery plans.

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How We Measure Environmental Impacts of COVID-19 

Nitrogen dioxide is one of the best measures for a day-to-day comparison of the environmental impacts of the COVID lockdowns because it tends to dissipate much faster than carbon monoxideAs such, its presence is a better indicator of changes in a short period. It is also commonly produced from the burning of fossil fuelsIn cities like Toronto and Montreal, the nitrogen dioxide levels fell more than 30 per cent, mainly because there were fewer cars on the roads, and factories either closed or cut production. In Edmonton and Calgary, the drop was closer to 40 per cent.  

Regions of the United States have also seen significant reductions in levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).  

Nitrogen dioxide is one of the best measures for a day-to-day comparison of the environmental impacts of the COVID lockdowns because it tends to dissipate much faster than carbon monoxideAs such, its presence is a better indicator of changes in a short period. It is also commonly produced from the burning of fossil fuelsIn cities like Toronto and Montreal, the nitrogen dioxide levels fell more than 30 per cent, mainly because there were fewer cars on the roads, and factories either closed or cut production. In Edmonton and Calgary, the drop was closer to 40 per cent.  

Regions of the United States have also seen significant reductions in levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).  

Tropospheric nitrogen dioxide column, March 15-April 15 2015-2019 Average vs March 15-April 15, 2020 Average, Southeast USA. 

Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio (https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4810)

Tropospheric nitrogen dioxide column, March 15-April 15 2015-2019 Average vs March 15-April 15, 2020 Average, Southeast USA. Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio (https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4810)


There
 has been a clear reduction in emissions worldwide due to the COVID-19 restrictions. This can be seen particularly when analyzing levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter emitted in urban areas. The lower emissions levels we’ve experienced over the past year and a half have had positive effects on our health and our environment. These effects are both statistically and visually tangible. Skies are clearer, wildlife has returned to habitats they had long since abandoned, and people can breathe outside in urban centerlong adjusted to smog warnings. These are the effects of lowered emissions. While it’s unclear whether COVID-19’s reduction in emissions will have an impact on global warming in the long-term, we have been shown what is possible when the world lowers its emissions. We can see what positive environmental change looks like. We need to carry it forward.  

There has been a clear reduction in emissions worldwide due to the COVID-19 restrictions. This can be seen particularly when analyzing levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter emitted in urban areas. The lower emissions levels we’ve experienced over the past year and a half have had positive effects on our health and our environment. These effects are both statistically and visually tangible. Skies are clearer, wildlife have returned to habitats they had long since abandoned, and people can breathe outside in urban centerlong adjusted to smog warnings. These are the effects of lowered emissions. While it’s unclear whether COVID-19’s reduction in emissions will have an impact on global warming in the long-term, we have been shown what is possible when the world lowers its emissions. We can see what positive environmental change looks like. We need to carry it forward.  

Re-establishing Paris Climate Accord Targets

With adjustments in our daily lives and legislation, we can meet the targets of the Paris Climate Accord. We can lower emissions, benefiting our health, wildlife, and finances. The European Union has already made renewable energy a cornerstone of its COVID-19 economic recovery plans. Different elements of the United Nations have recommended the same focus on renewable energy and environmental consciousness even before this pandemic. Renewable energy is growing rapidly, science is developing new climate solutions, and many people are making personal adjustments to help the environment. This is not enough. We have seen what a moment of drastic environmental change looks like due to the shutdowns caused by the Coronavirus. The reality of the matter is that we must continue to make even more drastic changes to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.  

This moment in history has shown us that significant change is possible and will help our world heal from the climate crisis. Wind farms, solar panels, retrofits, energy efficiency projects, electric vehicles, better public transportand advocating for further government action on the environment only represent a portion of the opportunities we have to accelerate positive environmental change. COVID-19 has given us a clear case study of what significant changes in emissions cause: better public health and a cleaner environment. So, will we forget about it once we cure this virus? Or will we take action to save our planet with affordable steps that are available to us now? It's our choice, and we can choose to accelerate positive environmental change today. See how you can do so on our website 

 

Resources 

https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/resources/updates/updates-on-covid-19-and-the-environment/ 

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-covid-19-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-environment 

https://globalnews.ca/news/6968741/coronavirus-pollution-environment-canada/ 

https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/pages/news/news/2020/6/protecting-nature-protects-health-lessons-for-the-future-from-covid-19 

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-probes-environment-covid-19-impacts-possible-links 

https://www.science.org.au/curious/earth-environment/what-impact-will-covid-19-have-environment 

With adjustments in our daily lives and legislation, we can meet the targets of the Paris Climate Accord. We can lower emissions, benefiting our health, wildlife, and finances. The European Union has already made renewable energy a cornerstone of its COVID-19 economic recovery plans. Different elements of the United Nations have recommended the same focus on renewable energy and environmental consciousness even before this pandemic. Renewable energy is growing rapidly, science is developing new climate solutions, and many people are making personal adjustments to help the environment. This is not enough. We have seen what a moment of drastic environmental change looks like due to the shutdowns caused by the Coronavirus. The reality of the matter is that we must continue to make even more drastic changes to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.  

This moment in history has shown us that significant change is possible and will help our world heal from the climate crisis. Wind farms, solar panels, retrofits, energy efficiency projects, electric vehicles, better public transportand advocating for further government action on the environment only represent a portion of the opportunities we have to accelerate positive environmental change. COVID-19 has given us a clear case study of what significant changes in emissions cause: better public health and a cleaner environment. So, will we forget about it once we cure this virus? Or will we take action to save our planet with affordable steps that are available to us now? It's our choice, and we can choose to accelerate positive environmental change today. See how you can do so on our website 

 

Resources 

https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/resources/updates/updates-on-covid-19-and-the-environment/ 

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-covid-19-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-environment 

https://globalnews.ca/news/6968741/coronavirus-pollution-environment-canada/ 

https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/pages/news/news/2020/6/protecting-nature-protects-health-lessons-for-the-future-from-covid-19 

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-probes-environment-covid-19-impacts-possible-links 

https://www.science.org.au/curious/earth-environment/what-impact-will-covid-19-have-environment 

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