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18 May 2024

COVID-19 grants earth respite on Earth Day, as world records lowest number of emissions

Photo: WAM


While the spread of COVID-19 has inflicted substantial damage to global economies, the exceptional circumstances that the world is experiencing today and the resulting lifestyle conditions has given an unprecedented opportunity for the planet to rebound, offering a respite from further degradation.

This report highlights how these new circumstances serve as a real eye-opener to people's understanding of the impact that global warming and greenhouse gas emissions have on Earth.

On the occasion of Earth Day, which is marked on April 22nd, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, said, "The pandemic is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of humans and the planet in the face of global scale threats. Unchecked damage to our environment must be addressed."

"The risks faced by ignoring the threats of environmental destruction must be understood and addressed with protections and policies. April 22 is a timely reminder to embrace the opportunities of the natural world for green jobs, sustainable economic stimulus, for urgently taking action to protect ourselves against unsurvivable global heating and for securing healthy, dignified futures," it added.

According to UNEP's Emission Gap Report 2019, by the end of 2020, global CO2 emissions need to have dropped by 7.6 percent and continue to fall by 7.6 percent each year for us to have keep global heating under 1.5 degrees celcius.

Rob Jackson, chair of the Global Carbon Project has said that thanks to measures taken to curb the coronavirus pandemic, carbon dioxide emissions could fall by the largest amount since World War Two in 2020.

"I wouldn’t be shocked to see a five percent or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, something not seen since the end of World War Two," he told Reuters, while experts warned that without structural change, the emissions declines caused by coronavirus could be short-lived and have little impact on the concentrations of carbon dioxide that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades.

Transport accounts for about 23 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and 27 percent of end-use energy emissions with urban transport, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO. However, with air travel grounded, and social isolation measures put in place in many countries around the world, less air pollutants and greenhouse gases are being emitted. In fact, not only has this led to less pollution in the air, but air quality has improved significantly in many countries, including in China, where carbon emissions fell by around 25 percent according to data published on Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website.

Furthermore, researchers in New York told the BBC their early results showed carbon monoxide mainly from cars had been reduced by nearly 50 percent compared with last year. Before and after images circulating in the media are also helping people observe this 'temporary' reality and the potential the environment can reach. Pictures of the water in the Venice canals, which has a reputation for being murky, is now clear with plenty of fish swimming and swans basking in the unusual urban peace and quiet. In others, satellite images show the effect the drop in nitrogen dioxide concentrations have had on cities around the world.

Another positive effect was also seen in the reduction of seismic noise around the world. The reduced vibrations from trains, cars and buses throughout the world because so many people are staying home has helped scientists detect the smallest of earthquake tremors.

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it is a chance to remember that a better future is really possible; and as Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said on the occasion, "If we are able to half our emissions over the next ten years, and that is entirely possible, we can then create a future that is much better for human beings and for all other life on this planet."