At present, there has been a drop of carbon emissions due to the drastic measures imposed around the world. However, the study published on Nature called “Current and Future Global Climate Impacts Resulting from Covid-19”, has found that the impact on the climate crisis are negligible with a global heating cut of only 0.01°C by 2030. Despite the positive effects the virus has had on our lives, the pandemic is considered double-edged: on the one side, the beneficial drop-in carbon emissions and on the other, the negative repercussions on the climate once everything would be back to normal.
Increase of inequalities and medical waste
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the inequalities faced by individuals and families in humanitarian crises. There are risks of starvation in camps due to a lack of access to aid. This interruption of aid means less access to soap and water which are essential to fight the virus. Physical distancing is sometimes not possible in some humanitarian settings like in Bangladesh where the density of population of 40,000 people per 40m2.
Lockdown could have increased vulnerability of the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. The Mental Health Foundation has found a divergence in people’s experience of the pandemic depending on their social or economic environment. People affected by socioeconomic inequalities have been more likely to struggle with anxiety, panic or loneliness. Young people, isolated elderly people, single parents or unemployed people are more likely to be put at risk of mental health issues or of not benefitting from recovery equally.
Moreover, the virus has caused more medical waste. The health and care system (NHS) in England are responsible for 4-5% of the country’s carbon footprint which increased during the pandemic. However, the NHS has engaged the medical core in tackling Climate Change during 2020 with three main goals: establish an expert panel to help the NHS to get to “net zero”; calling hospitals to reduce carbon from buildings and estates or the launch of the campaign “For a Greener NHS” to encourage staff and hospital to cut their impact on people’s health and the environment.
Economic stimulus and global emissions
The crisis could cause increased emissions in the years to come. Some countries are already pumping out more carbon emissions in order to rally their economies. For example, the Chinese government started the largest and most polluting stimulus economic programme in history in order to offset the damages caused by the crisis. The financial programme involves massive public infrastructure investment or rural development. The heavy industry and carbon-intensive projects are causing a spike in China air pollution levels and carbon emissions.
In the United States, the Trump administration uses COVID-19 both as an excuse and distraction to deregulate essential regulations aimed to protect the environment. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration rolled back 100 federal environmental regulations. Out of these 100 rollbacks, 68 have been successfully completed and 32 are in the process of getting eliminated. Among them, the Clean Power Plan which would have lowered emissions in the United Sector power sector by 32% by 2030 or banning the use of Chlorpyrifos on farms which has been connected to brain damage for farmworkers. These large cuts of environmental regulations are a big consequence not only for climate action but for air quality and community health.
Cancellation of climate actions
In addition to that, due to the pandemic and the social distancing, big climate conferences are being cancelled and the United Nations’ COP26 scheduled for this year has been postponed to 2021. Climate strikes are also cancelled and the climate activist Greta Thunberg has encouraged other solutions like digital activism to take over physical protests (have a look on our previous article on the subject)