Introduction

Birds are chirping, highways have quieted, rush hour traffic follows easily, airports have been shut down, smog has disappeared, reviving sunny and blue skies. COVID-19 has left this earth with dramatic drops in air pollution and a hope to solve the climate crisis by putting a halt to several harmful practices. It has drastically changed life on a global scale. Looking on the other side of the coin, it can be called an invisible menace which has caused an incalculable human and economic destruction. But there is an important lesson to be learned from this pandemic.

Impact on environment

Talking about the positive impact of the pandemic, greenhouse gas emission which is a primary contributor to global warming has seen a decline due to decreasing travel and economic activity. International Energy Agency has estimated 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to never be emitted into the atmosphere. This may not be permanent but the rising trend of remote work can now help to accelerate lasting effects on cutting carbon emissions. Similarly, according to reports, China’s carbon emission fell by around 25 percent. Further, a 10 percent reduction in pollutant nitrogen dioxide per week was seen in Italy and a drop of 50% of carbon monoxide, mainly from cars was seen in New York. Apart from this a significant decrease in air pollution in many parts of the world has been one of the major impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China, the proportion of days with “good quality air” increased by 11.4% compared to the same period last year. A similar story is seen in India when residents of Jalandhar Punjab woke up to view Dhauladhar mountain range which is 213 km apart as a result of clean air. As we know India is home to 21 out of 30 worst polluted areas in the world, COVID-19 has helped us all to realize and expose the respiratory health crisis. As a result the period has denoted an unintentional but welcome breath of fresh air for the populated and polluted cities of the nation. It can be said that this pandemic is driving us towards the emission reduction target set by international climate agreements such as the Paris Agreement.

Impact on Biodiversity

Talking about wildlife, we have seen a stag scampering through Dehradun, puma being spotted at Santiago under lockdown and school of dolphins returning to marine drive. Coronavirus has truly resulted in a bunch of positives for planet Earth. As a result of lockdown, 4,75,000 endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles have come the coast of Odisha and laid their eggs. With fewer people crowding the water, a school of Oman cownose rays were spotted in Dubai marina. Nevertheless, while our species were in temporary retreat during the lockdowns, the gap was filled with wildlife.

Important takeaways for post COVID scenario

But the question that needs to be answered is could this temporary period be enough to combat environmental challenges? Certainly Not, but this pandemic can show us how the future can look with less air pollution, or it may simply demonstrate the magnitude of the challenge ahead. These days have altered our way of thinking. Substantially it taught us how lower levels of human activity could lead to greater visibility of the diverse array of species living in urban areas which often go unnoticed by the average human inhabitant. When aircraft begin to fly, factories and industries come back to life, pollution will eventually tend to pick up. As seen during the global economic crisis where global CO2 emission levels from fossil fuel oxidation and cement production fell by 1.4 percent to only rise to 5.9 percent in 2010. But this time, the crisis will result in a longer-term impact on the environment, at far greater cost to human health and security. We may certainly see countries after lockdown prioritizing economic development over environmental reforms. But it will be in our hands to learn from COVID-19 and live a better life in our ecosystem. Whether this pandemic is good or bad for the world ultimately depends not on the virus but on humanity.  At the very least, it should challenge governments and companies to consider how things can be handled differently after the pandemic, to hold on to temporary improvements in air quality and biodiversity. It is clear that this epidemic has given us a chance to regain a sense of humanity and learn from our mistakes to make this planet a better place to live. It has shown a deeper reflection on our relationship with the environment.

In essence, the lesson to learn from this is that once nations get to grips with the coronavirus, better enforcement of the environmental, transport, and industrial regulations should be made a priority to relieve the adverse impacts of human activity on the environment. To end this I would like to quote Lady Bird Johnson, a visionary environmentalist and former first lady of the US who once said: “The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”

Harsh Khanchandani is a 1st Year law student  pursuing BBA LLB from Symbiosis Law School Pune. He has a strong interest in contract law and tort law and is an avid reader and a mooter. He has been involved with a number of organizations working towards betterment of the society.


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