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Environment and Coronavirus: Will improvements stay post-lockdown?

Environment and Coronavirus: Will improvements stay post-lockdown?

Recent lockdown restrictions have had significant positive impacts on the natural world globally, through the reduction in transportation use and the changes to consumption patterns. But, are these improvements likely to stay in a post-coronavirus world?

The COVID-19 lockdowns have seen populations around the world being confined to their homes and borders being closed down, in order to help contain the spread of the virus. These drastic measures altered energy demand and resulted in daily global emissions of carbon dioxide decreasing by 17% in early April 2020 when compared with the mean 2019 levels. These decreases were largely a result of changes in transportation, through the reduction of car and public transport usage.

The reduced use of transportation saw many cities across the globe record an unprecedented decline in air pollution, including Delhi, Beijing, Bangkok, and Sao Paulo. Landmarks across these cities were seen like never before and the air quality levels were greatly improved, being beneficial for both the environment and human health.

However, an updated study has shown that carbon emissions are still down on those seen in 2019, but they have risen from what they previously were in the early stages of lockdown, with emission levels now being down by only 5% on average globally.

The emissions produced this year are likely to be around 4-7% lower than the whole of last year, depending on how long restrictions last, although, these reductions will not be enough to significantly contribute to the reductions in emissions needed to reach the Paris agreement 

Wildlife has also greatly appreciated the break in human activities across many urban areas, with sightings of many species increasing. Waterways in Istanbul, Turkey, are usually busy marine routes for tankers and cargo ships but with the reduced traffic, dolphins have been spotted swimming and jumping in the water. Birdsong has also become more audible this spring, with many people commenting on how they have noticed the birds singing away outside. Their song has become significantly more audible than it has in decades due to the drop in man-made noises, such as road traffic and aircraft flying overhead. 

Emissions around the world have rebounded as lockdown measures have begun to be eased, raising fears that we could see emissions rising higher than they were before the pandemic hit.

Corinne Le Quere, a professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, recently said: “We expected emissions to come back, but they have done so rapidly is the biggest surprise.”

A large concern shared by researchers is that the carbon emissions from private car usage will see a surge. People are currently being asked to avoid public transportation and this may translate to an overall increase in people deciding to travel by car to feel safer and stay socially distanced from others.

Furthermore, there is the risk that as countries try to reboot their economies they may invest less money into the environment and simply ignore the progress made in combatting climate change. Scientists like Le Quere have stated the key role that governments will have moving forward, saying, “There is the possibility [of emissions surging to well above pre-crisis levels] if the government incentives for boosting the economy are blind to climate change. Building roads, for example, would be very detrimental.”

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