2020 and 2021 are the years marked by the rise of the COVID 19 pandemic and climate change. When WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, climate change was at the forefront of political conversations and agendas.
It was considered a necessary time to take decisive action to protect the planet’s future. However, the world’s spotlight has shifted away from climate change as the shock of the pandemic wears off.
Some experts believe the pandemic has brought some positive impacts on the environment. According to Matt McGrath, environment correspondent for the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has generated the most significant drop in CO2 emissions on record in history.
No war, no recession, no other pandemic has had as dramatic an impact on CO2 emissions over the last century as COVID-19 has achieved in just a few months.
There were fewer planes in the skies and fewer cars on the tracks. Power consumption dropped. NASA detected the decrease in polluting gases in the atmosphere from space.
However, as the research extended, new results and findings emerged. Now, scientists have highlighted the similarities between the COVID 19 and Climate Change. They suggest that climate change may have been a causative factor in the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Table of Contents
- Similarities Between Climate Change and COVID-19 Crises
- Consequences of COVID 19 and Climate Change
- Important Lessons Taught by Pandemic and Climate Crisis
- Will the Global World remain Committed?
Similarities Between Climate Change and COVID-19 Crises
While the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change do not immediately look alike, several significant shared factors are indicated on closer inspection.
1. Attributed To Unnecessary Loss of Life
COVID-19 is known to remarkably influence the elderly and those with primary health conditions, causing severe respiratory illness.
Climate change negatively affects air quality, drinking water, food intake, and shelter – all the factors associated with health.
It is estimated that the climate change crisis will cause 250,000 additional deaths yearly between 2030 and 2050. COVID-19 pandemic has already declared the lives of more than 2.3 million people worldwide since the start of the pandemic.
2. Affect the More Vulnerable Population
The Climate Change and COVID-19 pandemic are known to influence some demographic groups more as well as others.
Research has indicated that the vulnerable and disadvantaged balance a more fantastic price in both scenarios. People in poverty suffer the shocks of climate change and the pandemic more than the wealthy.
Unfortunately, there have long been inequalities between the poor and the rich regarding health and exposure to factors that affect poor health. The pandemic and climate change have now clearly highlighted these disparities.
In conclusion, the two crises have pushed regional health systems around the world to the limit. Climate change and COVID-19 have resulted in many people being hospitalized, forcing countries to reassess how they manage their health systems.
Consequences of COVID 19 and Climate Change
During the pandemic, various social media platforms circulated many images of waters that looked more crystalline and animals that strolled happily through cities without humans around them. Seismologists noticed that the planet was vibrating even less.
The situation, however, is not comforting because these were just temporary positive impacts, be they improved air quality or reduced greenhouse gas emissions, as they are the signs of tragic economic slowdown and human suffering.
Although lockdowns and a slower economy positively impacted the climate, these are only for a short while as the world will soon try to return to its pre-pandemic period.
Still, here is what happened when the COVID 19 and climate crisis hit the world simultaneously.
1. Biggest Drop in CO2 Emission
The most significant drop in the amount of CO2 comes from the decrease in inland transport.
At a global level, until March 2020, the average land transport had decreased 50% compared to the same period in 2019. Air traffic has also plummeted.
In Europe, 90% of flights have been canceled compared to 2019. In the United States, about 50% of planes have been grounded compared to last year.
According to Robbie Andrew, a researcher at the International Center for Climate and Environmental Research, airplanes represent only 3% of the global total.
Since February, NASA satellites have detected drops of between 20% and 30% in nitrogen dioxide emissions in some regions of countries hit hard by the coronavirus, such as Italy, China, and the United States.
Nitrogen dioxide is a dangerous gas emitted by vehicle engines, power plants, and industrial complexes.
2. Interconnection between Local and Global World
Our society is linked by the complex networks that transport people, products, and information. They connect local processes, from individual actions and decisions to operations between nations, sectors, and generations.
The spread of COVID 19 shows the capacity of networks to connect the local and the global. Our transportation and communication routes can quickly turn local events into global-scale processes.
The contingency measures to face the COVID-19 crisis have recognized the interconnected nature of society to design effective responses and have been a clear demonstration of how solutions to global concerns must intertwine actions at multiple scales.
Actions that range from appealing to the empowerment and responsibility of individuals to adopt new habits and behaviors need to be shared.
Regional actions to adapt measures to the particularities of regions and countries, and cooperation between governments, sectors, and multilateral entities to design and implement coordinated policies, share information, technology, and knowledge, and develop joint innovations are to be interconnected.
This notion of an interconnected global society is also evident when we consider the climate crisis.
Avoiding a catastrophic transformation of the climate will be the cumulative result of processes operating simultaneously at multiple scales, from the preferences and choices of individuals and communities to the international political agreements necessary for the global migration of energy supply, transport and consumption technologies.
3. Way to Greener Planet
In some countries, initiatives in favor of the environment driven by the coronavirus have already begun to be seen. In Paris, for example, 650 km of cycling bike paths are being set up.
Milan announced an ambitious plan to reduce car use and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists in response to the crisis caused by the virus.
The oil crisis could also drive change. Oil prices have plummeted, and that has a huge impact. There are legitimate questions about whether that industry will ever recover.
4. Prevalence of Global Inequities
The Covid-19 crisis revealed how inequities are presently associated with poverty or gender – among others, in terms of access to resources, options, and voice.
Currently, the highly infectious variants of COVID-19, delta, and lambda are making their way through countries of the South, where they are slowly but indeed wreaking havoc among low-income and indigenous communities and whose health capacities are deficient.
The result of decades of austerity measures, underinvestment in health infrastructure, and lack of access to vaccines.
However, the rich countries of the North, including the so-called feminist governments, continue to accumulate enough vaccines to vaccinate their populations on several occasions.
Perversely, the current situation of vaccine apartheid also leads these countries to actively oppose any effort to ensure equitable access to life-saving COVID 19 vaccines for the rest of the world.
For instance, in India, oxygen demands were high during the second pandemic wave; several people untimely died due to the unavailability of oxygen.
The worldwide criticism forced the US and European nations to come forward and lend their helping hands much later after devastating consequences.
These inequities lead to a disproportionate burden of vulnerabilities and consequences on specific groups in society.
The same inequality can be seen regarding climate change as well. The world’s most vulnerable people often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.
Rising temperatures contribute to food insecurity, water shortages, and land tenure insecurity while disrupting the services necessary for human health and livelihoods, habitat, and survival.
The elderly, women, children, people with disabilities, and indigenous peoples are invariably among the most affected.
In 2019, nearly 2,000 disasters, mainly climatic, caused 25 million new displacements. The wealthiest people can afford to escape the heat or buy cooling equipment like air conditioners, but these options are out of reach for most of the world’s population.
Over the past 20 years, climate apartheid resulted in a death rate seven times higher for the South than for the Northern peripherals.
Recent research results indicate that if global warming does not subside, more than 8 billion people will be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.
Already in 2019, without taking into account the latest research, 94% of malaria cases were reported in Africa, while Europe has had none since 2015.
The global injustice of the climate crisis lies in the fact that people least responsible for the historic emissions of carbon dioxide in the countries of the South are also those who will suffer the most from climate crisis’ effects.
Climate change has continued to accelerate as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic.
5. Importance of local production
The director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Energy Security and Climate Change program, Amy Jaffe, says the virus is changing our habits in a way that can help fight climate change in the long term: working from home; video conference meetings, working fewer days; or stagger office hours to reduce traffic.
Companies could conclude that what is good for the planet – local production – is also an appropriate way to protect their supply chains against all kinds of risks, be they events related to climate change or global epidemics.
6. COVID-19 hampered Monitoring Climate Change
Climate change hasn’t stopped for COVID-19. Concentrations of greenhouse emitted gases in the atmosphere are reaching record levels and continue to rise.
After a temporary decline due to containment and the slowdown in economic activity, emissions return to their pre-pandemic level.
The world is about to experience its five hottest years on record – a trend that is likely to continue.
It is not on the way to meeting the agreed target of keeping the average temperature rise in the planet well below 2 °C compared to pre-industrial levels or limiting the increase to 1.5°C.
It is what emerges from a new inter-agency report called United in Science 2020 from leading scientific organizations.
This report highlights the growing and irreversible effects of climate change, which affect glaciers, the ocean, nature, economies, and living conditions and often manifest through hydrological hazards such as droughts or floods.
It also demonstrates how COVID-19 has hampered our ability to monitor these changes as part of the global observing system.
Important Lessons Taught by Pandemic and Climate Crisis
The lessons learned from COVID-19 can lay the foundations for adopting comprehensive, transparent, and coherent strategies at different scales to face the climate crisis. It taught us that:
1. Climate Change influencing the Emergence of COVID 19
The Cambridge University recent study reveals a mechanism by which climate change may have influenced the emergence of the Corona Virus and its passage from animals to humans.
According to this work, global warming and the increase in greenhouse gases have caused changes in the Yunnan Chinese province vegetation (as well as in Myanmar and Laos) during the last century.
These modifications have allowed bats to extend their habitats and live in new territories. Its presence is associated with a more significant number of coronaviruses.
The climate emergency and the zoonotic pandemic are the consequence of human activity, which causes environmental degradation.
The Lancet medical journal has monitored and reported more than 40 global indicators that measure the impact of climate change on health.
A recent editorial highlights that the causes of the climate crisis and COVID-19 have common elements, and their effects are convergent.
Curbing the effects of climate change will help suppress the emergence and reappearance of zoonotic diseases.
These are more likely due to intensive agriculture, international trade in exotic animals, and increased human encroachment on wildlife habitats, increasing the likelihood of contact between people and pathogens.
The report concludes that decisions made now must address both crises together to ensure the most effective response to each.
2. Prevention is better than regret
In retrospect, the spread of COVID-19 has shown that the most effective measure to avoid the public health crisis is to act as quickly and agilely as possible.
During the initial pandemic period, the contagion rate is proportional to the number of people affected. Therefore, the delay inaction leads to a vicious circle where more people are infected, which will increase the speed of contagion.
Above a specific contagion rate, the threshold of the health system’s capacity to serve the population that experiences severe symptoms of infection is exceeded, generating severe consequences for the entire population due to the limitation of access to health services and access to the feasibility of containment efforts.
The climate crisis is similar: the transformation of the climate will tend to accelerate as a warmer planet activates new mechanisms that exacerbate these changes.
For example, slight increases in temperature, leading to more arid conditions and an increase in the frequency of forest fires or the melting of permafrost – among others, increases the amounts of greenhouse gases and accelerates the transformation of the climate system.
A simple snowflake can turn into an unmanageable avalanche if timely measures are not taken.
The management of the COVID-19 epidemic clearly illustrates how there are timely windows of intervention in the event of a crisis.
These lessons should be considered a reference to the urgency of accelerating and scaling actions that facilitate climate change mitigation.
3. Biodiversity as a shield against viruses
The scientific community has been issuing this alert for years: biodiversity loss is a catalyst for spreading life-threatening viruses and infectious diseases.
The reason is that the diversity of animals and plants works as a protective shield. Many species act as hosts for viruses that we don’t even know about yet.
Reducing this diversity and destroying ecosystems makes it easier for these viruses to transmit to humans. It is estimated that 75% of the new emerging diseases that infect people come from animals.
In short, if we want to avoid new pandemics, protecting biodiversity and promoting sustainable ecosystems is not an option: it is an obligation.
And there is no moment to waste because, at the current rate, we will lose one in eight species on the planet in the coming decades.
4. Existing Models: not perfect, but useful
No epidemic model has provided accurate predictions; however, they have been valuable tools for designing epidemic management strategies in many countries.
The models used are built on general principles that determine the dynamics of an epidemic, that is, factors such as infection rate, immunity, and other factors.
In the absence of adequate knowledge of the actual conditions of the system, the application of these basic concepts makes it possible to infer the state and likely trend of the process.
The models have facilitated communication and informed dialogue on the importance and effect of different mitigation measures.
This information has been fundamental in influencing the adoption of measures such as periods of isolation, social distancing, and the need to expand the health care system’s capacity.
For decades, we have also developed climate models that share the two essential characteristics with the epidemiological models used to predict pandemic dynamics while operating with significant uncertainty levels.
They are built on well-understood principles that determine long-term dynamics such as the interaction of the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere.
In turn, these models have facilitated the process of identifying the potential consequences of different courses of action and informed the design of specific measures to mitigate climate change.
5. Rethink Production and Consumption models
COVID-19 teaches us that the health of the planet is in our hands. As recently stated by Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, “now more than solidarity and is never necessary ambition to move towards a sustainable economy, resilient, low-emissions coal. “
Excessive consumption and production models need to give way to a system that guarantees the dignity of all people and the sustainable use of resources for subsequent generations.
6. Solidarity an Important Tool
In a global scenario of pessimism, uncertainty, and dehumanization, the fight against COVID-19 and climate change must always be accompanied by one word: solidarity.
These two global challenges, so strongly connected, cannot be solved if we do not understand that we are all part of the solution.
We can solve the problem from recycling to prevention measures against COVID-19 through solidarity with the most vulnerable people or demanding action from world leaders.
Will the Global World remain Committed?
The crisis invited by the pandemic and climate change has forced the global nations to cooperate to bring primary measures regarding a greener planet.
But will they remain faithful and committed? That’s a big question.
China and the US, the two superpowers, have seen the pandemic destroy their economy. Both countries are desperate to return to pre-virus production levels, so their leaders may think the safest way to do so is by turning to old, reliable fossil fuels.
Against this backdrop, they are facing a complicated dilemma. The USA must decide whether to bail out polluting companies and use that bailout as a lever to impose reforms with an environmental focus or let them revert to carbon-intensive as a measure to fix the economy quickly.
Some fossil fuel companies are determined to seek government bailouts in the US without committing to a cleaner future.
In China, for its part, during the first three weeks of March 2020, the operation of coal-fired plants was approved in a greater quantity than what was agreed in all of 2019, according to the environmental research center Global Energy Monitor (GEM).
GEM analysts say this may be a sign of China’s attempts to use new coal plants as a stair to boost the domestic economy after the coronavirus slump.
The calculation among analysts is that despite China’s pause to fight the virus, the new industrial impulse will reduce only 1% in energy production this year.
Regarding other sources of pollution, the World Bank has warned about some countries and cities that have relaxed the measures that tend to discourage the use of plastic.
The UN, for its part, affirms that as a result of the pandemic, there will be an increase in dangerous medical waste.
Climate change and the global health pandemic of COVID-19 are both global and unprecedented in their disruption. Together, they directly threaten the holy trinity of sustainable development – people, ecology, and the economy.
Governments, duty bearers, are visibly struggling in their responses to the pandemic and climate change, further proving how ill-equipped the world is to deal with the risks exacerbated by greed and destruction.
In the emergence of a global health pandemic and a devastating climate crisis, we need to fundamentally rethink the role of states and their obligations to respect human rights and ensure the planet’s well-being.
Extreme wealth and poverty gaps, vaccine inequalities, unpaid care work, and environmental destruction are not the results of natural phenomena but political choices.