There is little that the COVID-19 pandemic has not had a direct impact on. From the economy, to our health practices, to our daily lifestyles in general, it is safe to say that the virus has transcended the public health scare of its origins and will have a lasting impact.
How, though, has this global issue affected Climate Change?
This issue has been a political point of contention for years, but with global temperatures rising, natural disasters at an unprecedented high, and a general awareness among civilians and policy makers alike, the issue has been widely accepted as one worth paying attention to, regardless of political affiliation.
The juxtaposition of the large influx of PPE and a demand for single-use products, with a significant drop in travel, dining, shopping, and other carbon emitting activities, makes for an interesting look at how exactly COVID-19 has influenced climate change.
In April 2020, as the world entered a strict quarantine and businesses slowed to an eventual halt, global emissions reportedly fell between between 10-30 percent.
Climate scientists, however, forecast that despite these apparently sizable declines, the overall impact on climate change may only amount to a decrease in the global temperature of 0.01 °C over the next five years. They note that the drop in emissions that we saw at the beginning of quarantine was only temporary, and will be nearly negligible in the longterm fight for climate sustainability.
Our country’s plastic usage has increased between 250% to 350% this year alone, and it’s not simply because of the necessity for mask wearing (though reusable masks are used and recommended by many). The sky rocket in plastic usage can also be attributed to businesses returning to single-use practices.
Before the pandemic, we saw a ban on plastic bags, plastic straws, and even plastic cutlery. All of this encouraged consumers to use their own reusable totes, straws, coffee cups, and bamboo utensils, causing a huge shift toward sustainability.
In a public health crisis, however, these practices could not stand up to code. Amidst the pandemic, businesses of all kinds were forced to shift back to single-use items, thus, putting millions of tons of non-recyclable plastic back into our economy, posing a threat to our oceans and our climate yet again.
With most public transportation being shut down and people being generally weary of using it, folks are driving their cars now more than ever, as well, resulting in traffic congestion, air pollution, and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. That being said, the issue of transportation can be balanced out knowing that there is significantly less international travel, which usually accounts for over 2 percent of global carbon emissions.
In addition, many cities have either closed off streets, or added bike lanes to encourage commuters to ride their bikes or use bike shares in an effort to avoid public transportation.
Unfortunately, due to the travel restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, several incredibly important meetings with influential organizations were forced to postpone.
The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 was scheduled to reconvene this November at COP26, The World Conservation Congress, The Convention on Biological Diversity, The 2020 U.N. Ocean Conference, and the years-long awaited finalization of the High Seas Treaty have all been delayed to 2021.
These postponements could be detrimental considering that if they went as planned, many countries would be more likely to utilize economic recovery plans for the COVID-19 pandemic which would also further their climate change goals.
Now, we are not only experiencing the turning away from sustainable practices and the weakening of environmental policies domestically and internationally, but with less money to allocate, we are also seeing the rollback of many green policies in the United States.
It is clear that, though at first glance simpler lifestyles and remote existences might lead to a more sustainable future, both the damage that humanity had already inflicted, plus the implications of the pandemic appear to have us shifting elsewhere. Like with any issue, however, knowledge is undoubtedly power, and with many organizations, companies, and even universities offering training on the sustainability front, the future is not all dark. The more we learn, understand, and continue to make green investments, be it in education, practice, or policy, the brighter our future looks. Oddly enough, disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic historically tend to lead to the biggest bonds, followed by shifts in humanity. With that in mind, the final thing the virus has imposed on the climate change crisis, is universal alignment and therefore, hope. Tragedy tends to bring us together, and if we can all get on the same page globally, it seems that there will be hope for our planet.