COVID-19 and its Impact on Climate Change Mitigation

“This is above all an emergency and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. This is not something you can like on Facebook.”

– Greta Thunberg, 2019

When we begin to describe the realities of today, it ends up sounding like a Black Mirror episode. The silver lining is that we are slowly making progress to a better state of things. We were suddenly thrown into an emergency and everybody scrambled to get back on their feet. This seems like a good example of how worse other global issues can get. The COVID-19 crisis has currently occupied our focus due to which discussions on other important issues such as climate change seem to have taken a back seat on traditional and social media platforms. Not only the attention but the research upon the matter has come to a halt due to the national lockdowns in various parts of the world. This has resulted in funding cuts, cancelled climate conferences and a diminished political will to handle environmental issues. Although this is unavoidable, it is concerning as the experts believe that the effects of climate change would be far worse than the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Now, if the topic of climate change comes up, it is only in relation to the pandemic.

People around the world are raving about the significant positive effect the lockdown has had on the climate. For instance, a drop of 17 percent in daily global carbon emissions has been recorded in the month of April. People are breathing in cleaner air and are witnessing clearer and bluer skies. What they don’t realise is that this positive effect is short term and when the world resumes its normal life the numbers will rise again. Some will argue that COVID-19 would be a lesson and people will be mindful now that we have seen the havoc climate change has caused this year in India. But if we were to believe the news that has been floating around regarding reviving the economy after the COVID-19 crisis subsides, some commentators have gone as far as to even suggest enhanced burning of the fossil fuel to kick-start the economy. This almost guarantees how unprepared we will be as and when a natural catastrophe hits. While it is unclear how these factors will balance out, experts on the matter are still urging people to start taking mitigative action to avoid the worst circumstances, they are concerned about the potential impacts of these ideas of “reviving the economy” and climate change taking the “back seat”.

How will this affect us?

Present concerns could possibly be used as a trump card against the preparations for the future. But we are at a critical point where after this pandemic ends, things could either become dire or get better if we learn from our shortcomings. Looking at the state of the economy, governments will start cutting funds and focus on boosting our economy soon. The President of the United States has already signed an executive order that enables a waiver of environmental review for infrastructure projects with the aim to speed the economic recovery. To give you an idea, this is just the beginning of such decisions being taken around the world.

Scarcity of funds

Since the national lockdown, public and private debt has increased. The demand for financial support has increased so the Government has increased the borrowing limit to overcome the shortcomings. The private sector is witnessing huge pullouts in terms of investment. The cost of capital is only going to increase for future borrowings. This will directly affect the financing of employment schemes, the health sector, subsidies, and future investments in reducing energy emissions.

More plastic waste

Our use of plastic in gloves, masks, plexiglass dividers, etc. has vastly increased and led to their mass production. They are used everywhere from grocery stores to offices.  People have not been diligent with how they discard them after use. Such plastic products are ending up in streets, parks, and beaches around the world. Small measures contribute to this waste. For instance, the restaurants are largely reliant on delivery or take out these days and require a lot of plastic for packaging. People are shopping online more frequently and that adds to the carbon footprint.

Increased Carbon Footprint

As the normal life slowly resumes and people are allowed to go to work, the data collected from apps like Apple Maps is showing that more and more people prefer to travel alone. The government guidelines suggest people to not travel in crowds unless absolutely necessary. Public Transportation is also only being allowed for essential workers at present.

Decreased Air Travel

Transportation is responsible for 12% of Global Carbon Emissions out of which 11% comes from aviation. Due to the government-imposed travel ban, there has been an enormous decrease in carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. Appreciating the positive effects on the environment, people have started to embrace the “new normal” of virtual mode of communication and working.

Flora and Fauna is Rejuvenating

The metropolitan cities of the world are witnessing the lowest air pollution levels seen in the last decade or so. When the lockdown started, videos started circulating of the wild animals coming on to the roads and roaming freely. It was a positive moment for all as the wild animals and the migratory birds that once abandoned the nearby jungles and water bodies are returning to their natural habitat. The lockdown has given nature the time to heal.

Promoting Localism

With the increased accessibility to the internet and e-commerce catching up, Internationalization and Globalisation had become the modern definition of progress. The pandemic immediately shut down all such activities and we were forced to think about going local. In a way, it taught us to build connections and take care of our community on our own. Not being allowed to step outside has encouraged family time and has helped in building better relationships with each other. Everybody in the family helps out with the work around the house and spends quality moments together. If anyone is not with their family, then this time has helped them make huge strides in personal development.

This is a difficult time for all, both mentally and physically. What matters the most is that we take care of ourselves, our families and help out with our community. Nobody knows how the good and the bad will balance out in the future. All we know for certain is that this too shall pass.

Conclusion

COVID-19 pandemic took the governments across the world by surprise. It has not only affected our present but will also affect our future. As mentioned above, this creates a state of worry regarding the climate change issues. There will be lesser funds to invest in the project. The research and development would be mostly focused on the COVID-19 virus even when work resumes. The media is hyper-focused on the problem at hand, blatantly ignoring any other global problem that is waiting for us in the future.

Although the uncertainty of the future, the poverty, the failure of markets and an overwhelmed government does not paint a bright picture, we have to give the issue of climate change the attention that it needs. We recently faced Cyclone Amphan and watched it transform from a tropical storm to one of the largest cyclones in South Asia. We were also witness to Cyclone Nisarga, the second pre-monsoon cyclone to hit the west coast in 127 years. The problems caused by the COVID-19 virus further added to the difficult task of mitigating the destruction caused by the disaster.

It is imperative to note that investment in multi-year studies, institutional support, thinkers from diverse disciplines and more is a long term commitment that takes time to deliver results, hence, can only be provided by the state. Climate change mitigation policies require research upon matters ranging from climate data monitoring to understanding how a specific seed variety reacts to droughts. Due to this pandemic, the knowledge infrastructure will be left underdeveloped which will set us back in our progress by years.

Suggestions

COVID-19 is a global health crisis and human kind’s survival depends on prioritising this problem and finding a solution to it as soon as possible. But we have to stop living with the delusion that human life on earth is not related to our environment. Going forward, while preparing to deal with the problems of today, we have to put in a collective effort to prevent the problems of tomorrow. Global environmental schemes and policies cannot be ignored while trying to boost employment and industries. Among other things, solar equipment and electric vehicles have started grabbing people’s attention and therefore, should be promoted in our country. This will greatly contribute to our climate change plan. Apart from this, awareness should be spread about the term “Sustainable development” that promotes development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. NGOs, think tanks, and students from universities across the country should spark debates on the matter so that it stays relevant and fresh in the minds of the general public. We have to ensure that we are not walking into another crisis as we are recovering from one. The world needs to unite as one. It is our responsibility to nurture our planet. The more attention this gets, the more change we can expect!


Rupal Chikara from Symbiosis Law School, Noida

“IPR, Media and Corporate Law Enthusiast. Law student with a flair for singing.”

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