Environment & Climate

How is the COVID19 pandemic affecting the climate & the environment?

By March 17, 2020 No Comments

As the novel disease COVID 19 pandemic continues to spread, we are seeing remarkable & alarming changes in human behaviours.

From panic buying of foods, hand sanitizing gels & toilet rolls, to stealing N95 masks & protective suits from hospitals; the human population of planet Earth are most certainly showing signs of being unprepared for the pandemic. Fuelled by the outpouring of miss information & fear mongering from social media channels; humans are falling foul of the irrationality of the entire situation.

We are all painfully aware that thus far 184,037 diagnosed cases of COVID 19 have been reported globally with 7,142 reported deaths (Data from 17.03.2020. The figures continue to change daily)

However, in spite of the human health concerns, international economies are now beginning to feel the affects of the COVID 19 pandemic, with international travel restrictions in place, panic buying of anti bacterial gel in some countries, masks & protective suits being restricted in some sectors, as the medical professions needs are put first.

The larger ramifications of the pandemic are being felt in the stock markets with the New York stock exchange being temporarily suspended on Monday (09.03.2020), when within minutes of trading opening, stocks fell by 1800 points & the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing down 2013.76 points or nearly 8 percent, the worst single-day drop since the financial crisis of 2008.(1)

On Weds 11.03.2020 the Bank of England’s reaction to the COVID 19 outbreak in the UK, was to reduce interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25% as an emergency reaction to the ‘economic shock’ of the coronavirus outbreak & the UK Budget announced a £30b financial boost to the NHS & a ‘whatever it needs’ attitude, to support the efforts to contain the spread of the virus & to manage the wider health impact COVID 19 is having.

Despite the economic concerns being heightened & there very much being talk of a global recession as a backlash to entire countries shutting down; the affects that COVID 19 are having on the climate & the environment are also noticeable.

The first & most visible changes to the climate in relation to the COVID 19 pandemic, are the reduction in carbon emissions, especially over China. Analysis shows that in the first month of 2020 with the extension on the annual Chinese New Year shut downs because of the virus outbreak, their country wide CO2 emissions had already dropped by a quarter. It was reported on 09.03.2020 that ‘China emitted 600 million tons of CO2 in the past four weeks — about 200 million tons less than expected’ (2)

However, the most dramatic indicator of the reduction in GHG’s, in particular NO2 emissions, is in the satellite data. The data shows the NO2 levels based on the same time periods from 2019 – 2020. The evidence is dramatic & shows how the reduction in production, in particular steel production, construction, aviation activity & manufacturing has had on the emissions from China.

The most dramatic indicator of the reduction in GHG’s, in particular NO2 emissions, is in the satellite data.

The most dramatic indicator of the reduction in GHG’s, in particular NO2 emissions, is in the satellite data. (3)

Aviation activity alone has dramatically reduced the carbon emissions in China. With a reduction of 50% – 90% mainland flights & a 60%-70% reduction in domestic flights over an extended two week period;  ‘these flights were responsible for 17% of total CO2 emissions from passenger aviation in 2018, implying that that the on-going flight suspensions and cancellations have cut global CO2 emissions from passenger flights by around 11% (3Mt) in the past two weeks’(3)

With Italy now following the Chinese model of an entire country shutdown, all flights being cancelled to Italy & complete restrictions on movement of all citizens as of 12.03.2020; we may begin to see similar GHG reductions across Europe.

Furthermore, video footage having been posted 16.03.2020 has shown the canals of Venice running clear for the first time in years. Media sources are citing the city lock down & lack of tourists polluting the canals as a reasoning behind this unusual clarity in the Venetian waters.

However, climate campaigners should not be too jubilant just yet.

Despite there already being a considerable reduction in GHG emissions due to restrictions in global movement, there is evidence to prove that this is not the first time we have seen a dip in global emissions, only for them to rise sharply once countries return to production & with flights & manufacturing at an increased pace, to repair their damaged economies.

During the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, the oil crisis in the 1970’s & the financial crash of 2008; global emissions fell due to lack of movement, manufacturing & industrialisation. However, once these issues were addressed & countries returned to every day life, the emissions levels rose sharply, as countries tried to recover from these decimating events.

Concerns are now being raised that the Climate Emergency has been superseded & side lined by the health concerns of the human inhabitants of planet Earth in relation to COVID 19, with billions of financial support being used to buoy economies & health services affected by the virus outbreak. However, now would be a perfect time for international governing bodies to take stock of the lessons learned over the past few months, to see how they can resist & avoid such interruptive events going forward.

One area of heightened concern is the health ramifications of infectious diseases being affected by rising global temperatures.

With global temperatures rising & animal migration patterns changing, there are concerns of the heightened expectations of animal to human disease transmission. Research suggests that most novel disease’s originate in animals & are transmitted to humans. The COVID 19 outbreak for example is having being considered as starting in a live market in Wuhan, with other research suggesting it originated in Bats.

With this in mind, there are questions being posed about the environmental impact of climate change on cross species disease’s spreading. With some quarters expecting the warmer weather patterns of Spring & Summer to contain or “wipe out” the spread of COVID 19 for example; Scientists cannot predict how infectious disease’s will react to changes in the weather & climate in the future.

With no end currently in site for the peak of COVID 19 outside of China, (who have publicly announced they have contained the virus & seeing a dramatic dip in cases) international funding is being syphoned away from other projects to address the immediate health crisis. With the Climate Crisis seeming to have taken a back seat, there are those who are wondering if the extent of the spread of COVID 19 might in some areas make some people consider their carbon activities going forward & potentially change some human behaviours.

With there having been a very public example made of how easy a virus can travel through Cruise Ships, planes & confined spaces such as airports; there are those who are considering their travel options going forward, with a fear of another health scare potentially always being around the corner.

Furthermore, with international flights having being cancelled & business activities having to change in light of this; more & more companies are relying on virtual conferencing & virtual meetings. The reduction in business travel naturally would have a long lasting impact on GHG’s & CO2 emissions & of course the reduction in human movement, could help contain viral spreads in the future. If larger manufacturing companies, production & global forces saw a reduction in their GHG impact by having to make changes to their business models & behaviours; there could be an organic shift to a more companies making meaningful changes to their CO2 emissions through long term & permanent changes to their business activities.

Despite there being a dramatic reduction in GHG emissions from China over the past two months & the potential for more globally as the pandemic reaches its peak; it is not a time to become complacent about the data which is already showing huge reductions in GHG. Perhaps now would be a time for the Climate Crisis to be re-evaluated in light of the severity of the pandemic, how it has affected economies & the short term positive effects of the CO2 emission reductions & consider the lessons which can be learnt about health management, the affects of animal migrations due to climate & weather changes & how this has affected the human inhabitants of Earth.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.

  1. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/09/coronavirus-economic-pandemic-impact-recession/
  2. https://thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/climate-change/486085-coronavirus-has-slashed-chinas-co2-emissions
  3. https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-has-temporarily-reduced-chinas-co2-emissions-by-a-quarter