As the COVID-19 pandemic increased exponentially across the globe threatening lives and uprooting the economy of cities and nations, it also had a major impact on the environment. In a matter of a few months, the world has transformed its way of living.
As Work from Home becomes the new norm, 23% of carbon emissions have dropped globally just because of a decrease in transportation.
But that’s not all! Here are few other positive as well as negative impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the environment
POSITIVE IMPACTS OF THE PANDEMIC ON THE ENVIRONMENT
- DWINDLING AIR POLLUTION
Pollution dwindling in Wuhan during the corona virus pandemic (NASA)
- According to WHO, 4.6 million people die each year directly due to air pollution. However, after the two-week lockdown in China, NASA scientists monitoring pollution satellites observed a decrease in air pollution.
- A drop of 25% in carbon dioxide emissions along with 40% in nitrogen oxide emissions was observed. Similar changes have been observed in Italy during the self-isolation period.
- Energy-related CO2 emissions in India is on track with value 1.8 as per SDG report 2020
- In India, apart from CO2 emissions, particulate matter concentration PM2.5 has been increasing thus not keeping in check with SDG goals as per the report published in the year 2020.
CAUSES OF REDUCED AIR POLLUTION LEVELS
- Air quality improved largely because of a reduction in road traffic, air traffic, and factory emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen oxide (NOx), ozone, and particulate matter formation.
- EEA’s data for recent weeks show NO2 concentrations have decreased in many Italian cities during the lockdown. In the city of Rome, the average NO2 concentrations for the past four weeks of June were about 26-35% lower than the same weeks in 2019.
- THERE IS MORE FRESHWATER AVAILABLE
Before and After images of Venice, Italy canals during pandemic (blogspot.com)
- As the majority of industries have reduced activities, the water consumption of the industrial sector has decreased to about 20-30%.
- The hotels and health clubs are not functioning to full capacity either, hence a decrease in water consumption has been observed. It has also been noted that people tend to be more efficient with water at home than hotels and resorts.
- Besides a decrease in water consumption, there has been an exemplified clearness in water quality in the canals of Venice, Italy resulting in dolphin sightings for the first time in 60 years due to reduced pollution.
- THE WILDLIFE IS FLOURISHING
Sea turtles along Odisha coast laying eggs (scroll)
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted a 1.5 deg.C average rise in atmospheric temperatures may place 20-30% of species in jeopardy of extinction.
- With increasing temperatures coral reefs are likely to decline by a further 70 – 90% and by the year 2030, only 10% of rainforests will be remaining.
- But the global pandemic has helped resolve this devastation to a limit where there has been sightings of wild birds flocking to beaches in Peru and wild deer camping across housing estates in London.
- Along the eastern coast of Odisha, India around 475,000 endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles have laid 60 million eggs. Lagoons in Albania have witnessed an increase in flamingos by a third due to a decrease in boating activities
- In India, species survival as per red list index is decreasing and hence becoming an environmental concern as per SDG report,2020
- DECREASING DEMAND FOR OIL
Drop-in oil prices for the first time in 2 decades (BBC.com)
- Due to the decrease in fuel demands for factories and travel, there has been a sharp decline by 435,000 barrels a day in the first quarter of 2020, due to the pandemic.
- As combustion of fossil fuels is one of the leading cause of pollution, this decrease is a positive sign for the environment.
1 litre of oil can easily contaminate 1 million litres of water.
- Oil pollution also harms animals and insects, disrupts the food chain, and prevents photosynthesis in plants.
- Apart from its effect on wildlife, oil contamination can make water unsuitable for irrigation and damage irrigation plants.
- THE VEGETATION IS GROWING BETTER
Healthy plant growth is observed with improved air quality (Unsplash)
- Due to less human interference, plants are exposed to better air quality and clean water.
- The amount of oxygen and other nutrients required for their growth are not polluted and hence allow plants to grow and harvest healthy produce which is essential for improving the food cycle of the planet.
- IMPACT OF DECLINED GLOBAL FISHING ON MARINE LIFE
Global fishing activity graphs in 2020 in relation to 2018-19 (Global Fishing Watch)
- Since March 11, when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, global fishing activity has been down by nearly 10% compared to the 2018-2019 average, according to a new estimate, and in some places, the decline has been much greater.
- Due to restriction in movement, supply chains are fragmented, fishing imports are declined thus dwindling sales and affecting fishing communities.
- However, the positive impact on marine life due to the decline in fishing will be dependent on several factors such as species’ life-history traits and whether these species are bred during these months.
- The Covid-19 outbreak has other unintended consequences such as consumers purchasing more of non-perishable goods to stock up pantries increasing demand on canned tuna and herring. These activities will increase the risk of overfishing in poorly managed fisheries
- In India, the percentage of fish caught by trawling has been stagnating and not meeting SDG goals as per the report published in 2020
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF THE PANDEMIC ON THE ENVIRONMENT
- INCREASING NON-RECYCLABLE WASTE
Discarded gloves on the sewer during rains (CNN)
- With increasing home deliveries during the lockdown, meals and online shopping surged which requires a lot of plastic packaging.
- Due to an increase in health concerns, food retailers have resumed using single-use plastic bags at checkout points instead of reusable paper bags which was slowly becoming a norm before the pandemic.
- Production and disposal of surgical masks, gloves, protective equipment, and body bags have increased due to the COVID-19 crisis but all the waste generated ends up adding on the landfills and the environment.
- On average, 8 million tonnes of plastic trash, that is 30 times as heavy as The Statue of Liberty, leaks into the ocean annually and this rate is getting worse every passing year
- In a single month, about 5,796 tonnes of single-use plastic waste was generated in Bangladesh alone during the ongoing pandemic.
- INCREASING ORGANIC WASTE
Discarded squash and zucchini crops by a farmer in Florida City (Getty Images)
- Due to a sharp decline in the availability of cargo transportation services, the export and imports of various essential commodities have come to a standstill .
- Severe cuts in agriculture and fishery export levels have led to wastage of large quantities of produce.
- ECOSYSTEM AT RISK – ILLEGAL DEFORESTATION, FISHING, AND WILDLIFE
Corona virus led to ecotourism meltdown and risk to wildlife (breaking news travel)
- Environmental protection workers at national parks, land, marine conservation zones were required to stay at home during lockdown resulting in leaving these areas unmonitored.
- The decline in ecotourism activity has led to an increase in unemployment in the regions frequented by tourists hence, to manage their income, there has been a rise in illegal deforestation, fishing, and wildlife hunting.
- In Namibia, 10 years of conservation work is at risk with animals being poached outside their natural habitats by people in the tourism industry which accounts for 16% of the total employment.
- WASTE MANAGEMENT IS GETTING DIFFICULT
Medical waste management safety regulations (newsminute.com)
- Garbage contaminated with Medical waste has increased.
- In Wuhan, the officials were required to construct medical waste plants as the waste output reached 240 metric tonnes per day.
- However, there has been no evidence related to human contact of waste leading to the transmission of the virus.
- Many local waste recycling centres have suspended their activities over the fear of virus circulation in the recycling centres
Earth5R is an environmental organization from India with its head office at Mumbai. It works with the NGO sector, Companies and helps them conduct environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across India. Earth5R specializes in circular economy-based projects. Earth5R also offers short term and long-term environmental courses.
Earth5R’s Global Sustainability Hub is a cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an excellent opportunity for governments and the private sector to engage with communities, use Sustainability-based models to drive economic changes, and create social and environmental impact.
Reported by Radhika Mehta, Edited by Mehfil Mubarak