How COVID-19 is impacting the environment and sustainability

Dakota Murphey
Business Growth Consultant
27th May 2020

Given the sweeping change and unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be easy to overlook some other issues that would otherwise be in the forefront of our minds. The environment and sustainability are two such issues that have been rapidly gaining traction in recent years but have been almost ignored under the spread of the coronavirus.

The truth is that COVID-19 is actually having a major impact on the environment in both a positive and negative way. Here we take a look at how the virus is affecting the green movement. 

The positives

COVID-19 has certainly created some positives not only for the environment itself but also for green technologies and sustainability sectors moving forward. 

Emissions are down!

It can’t be said that COVID-19 has had many positives, but one of the most important is undoubtedly that carbon emissions have seen a vast drop in their numbers since the pandemic was announced. Some have reported the figures to be as high as a drop in 17% of carbon emissions globally. 

The drop is due to a reduction in transportation, air travel, and industrial emissions. “Globally, we haven’t seen a drop this big ever, and at the yearly level, you would have to go back to World War II to see such a big drop in emissions,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia. 

An increased interest in green technology

There has certainly been a rise in the number of people who are interested in investing in green technology. With COVID-19 changing many of the things that homeowners and businesses were taking for granted, it feels that this is a natural time for rethinking things that you may have taken for granted, such as how you get your electricity. 

“We have seen a large rise in interest in solar panels,” says Andrew Cunningham, Managing Director of Geo Green Power, a specialist in solar panel installations, “we think that it is partly down to rising costs in home electricity bills, but also the greater recognition that we need to look at new ways of living post-COVID-19”. 

A green boost to the economy

Many politicians around the world have considered focusing on promoting the environmental sector as a way to grow post-COVID-19. Presidential hopefully Joe Biden has called for a green revolution - in part by providing $400bn for research and development in green and clean technologies. 

It may well be the case that in looking for ways to boost their economies struggling after the pandemic, countries will look to invest in the sustainability sector. That can only be a good thing for the environment, as it could lead to a real change in behaviour 

The negatives

However, there may also be some negatives to the economy and sustainability as a result of COVID-19. 

Is it just a blip?

There are some who believe that the drop in emissions due to the COVID-19 is actually only a very short-term gain and that when industry re-starts and businesses look to recoup some of their financial losses through the start of the year, it will actually lead to a much higher level of carbon emissions

It will be important for countries and industries to monitor this carefully. It is vital that we should not undo the good that has come from lowering carbon emissions through the early part of 2020. 

A reduction in recycling

There can be no doubt that recycling is one of the most important aspects of sustainability, preventing pollution and re-using natural resources. But COVID-19 has had a damaging effect on recycling efforts across the world. Countries including the USA have stopped or reduced their recycling programs in an effort to focus on the collection of extra household waste, or because services had been affected by the virus. 

In Italy, individuals have been stopped from sorting their waste and this has made the task of recycling almost impossible. 

Water disinfecting

It is also true that some countries including China have asked their water treatment plants to strengthen their disinfecting regimes. This is to minimise the risk of coronavirus being spread through the water supply. 

This has happened even though there is no evidence to suggest the virus can survive in water or wastewater. 

Final thoughts

COVID-19 may represent something of a generational opportunity to re-think the way that we live our lives. Whilst the current effects are both negative and positive, there is an opportunity for governments and individuals to use this experience impact the environment and sustainability in the right way.

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