Sustained International Action during COVID-19 is a Sine Qua Non in Addressing Issues Pertaining to Climate Change

Sreenath Subrahmanyam (ELP 2019) | Director, Institute of BioEcoScience, Britain (in United States)

The influence of the pandemic on climate change is more complex than most of us perceive because of the sheer number of factors that play a part in the dynamic interactions between them. Clearly, carbon emissions are falling; for example, several cities in the US have recorded nearly 20% reductions in carbon monoxide. However, the likelihood of it bouncing back is extremely high as soon as COVID-19 situations change, cancelling the overall net benefits of the temporary reduction in emissions. Electricity and gasoline usages have dropped significantly, but the net reduction is offset by the increased utilization of electricity and energy by large populations that work from home. Vehicular transport is operating minimally resulting in several key benefits, including the improvement of overall health of the public, offering perhaps a rare, unique and an unprecedented opportunity for governments to implement and commit to difficult goals which are perceived as economically unsustainable. There is now a greater understanding on how exploring the forest–climate–health nexus and limiting forest fragmentation in the tropics could lead to enhanced benefit.

Changes in lifestyle have forced a tremendous increase in the use of plastics around the world, generating employment on the one hand and causing unprecedented environmental problems on the other. Plastic production is expected to tremendously rise by more than 35% in the next 10 years, and the increased demands for masks, gloves and other medical disposables--obviously critical materials for the extremely vital healthcare industry--and the use of plastics as disposable materials  for online deliveries need to be taken into account to formulate newer policies that aim at preventing nearly 8 million metric tons of plastic from entering our oceans every year. Promoting and incentivising innovation in manufacturing and supply chains could bring marked benefits. For instance, according to Ellen Jackowski , who drive Hewlett Packard (HP) Sustainable Impact strategy, HP has helped keep more than 1 million pounds of plastics out of the ocean, instead upcycling them for use in its manufacturing, launching the world’s first notebook, display, mobile workstation and enterprise laptop with ocean-bound plastics.

Field-based research has taken a huge battering, causing perhaps some of the worst impacts on the efforts towards conservation and sustainable development. Therefore, there clearly is a need for better understanding of the complexities that regulate the interactions between climate change and COVID-19, and further that a renewed emphasis on international climate goals is necessary to achieve a greater collaboration and commitment between and among governments.

Under a theme that aims at uniting business and governments to recover better from COVID-19, more than 150 companies have urged governments across the world to implement science based targets to set the world on a 1.50C trajectory. This would be achieved by investing in low carbon resilient solutions, delivering on the Paris agreement, and promoting greater engagement between policy makers and businesses. The extreme disruption caused by the pandemic is also a great opportunity for the governments to promote simple and practical solutions to environmental problems. However, in order to turn adversity into opportunity, policymakers, environmental scientists, researchers, and managers must act urgently and decisively.