Articles

COVID-19: Solving environmental problems or worsening them?

Filipe Correia, Portugal – 15 years old

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavírus (SARS-COV-2). This pandemic started three months ago and we are already feeling changes in our lives. But, what’re the environmental impacts of it?

Positive aspects

COVID-19 is responsible for decreasing pollutants emissions, such as CO2 and NO2, to the atmosphere. According to Carbon Brief, carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 25% in China after the Chinese New Year. Globally, CO2 can reach a reduction of 7% this year.

Density of tropospheric NO2 in Wuhan in μmol/m2. (darker colours represent higher density).

In addition to the atmosphere, the hydrosphere has also improvements. A decrease in water pollution in Venice has been reported, which lead to an increase in the number of living beings [+].

As it’s suspected that pangolins were responsible for the transmission of the virus to humans, it is estimated that the consumption of these animals will decrease [+].

Why have NO2 e CO2 emissions been decreasing?

Industry is one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the world. With their closure, global emissions decrease.

Lusa (news agency) said that the world is emitting less one million tons (1.000.000.000 kg) of CO2 than before. This is due to the following factors:

  • Less use of aeroplanes. In February there has been a 70% reduction in air traffic (compared to January)! The aviation industry produces about 3% of all carbon dioxide emissions.
  • A decrease in the use of private and collective transports, such as cars, buses and trains, because in some places people suffer restrictions on movement.
  • Closure of the factories. The biggest part of the factories in China and in other countries use mainly fossil fuels. With their closure or decrease in activity, coil and oil combustion declined.
  • A decrease in refinery operations.

According to analyst Marshall Burke, this decrease in air pollution could prevent the death of 77,000 people, due to the lower concentration of microparticles that are responsible for the death of thousands of people annually.

Negative aspects

With the fear of COVID, there has been an increase in the use of protective masks and gloves, single-use plastics. Sometimes these are not properly disposed of, ending up in the oceans and threatening marine life [+]. In the city of Wuhan alone, where the pandemic began, more than 200 tons of medical waste were produced every day, four times higher than the usual.

In addition, all the positive aspects are temporary and certain environmentalists believe that pollutant emissions will return to normal after the end of the pandemic.

This virus can also lead to a lack of interest in environmental measures. Some companies admit to delaying their environmental policies, due to revenue shortages.  And, in order to reduce the economic impact, they may reach emission records in an attempt to recover the time lost with the blockages. Likewise, at the end of the 2008 crisis, the Beijing government provided support to companies, leading to an increase in production and emitted pollutants.

“There might be a round of economic stimulus which would inject cheap credits to heavy industries in China, and as a result of that, we might see inscresing pollutants and also carbon emissions in the second half of this year”.

Frei Lui, NASA.

Conclusion

Although some news report the pandemic for the new coronavírus as something positive, due to the decrease in air pollution, it’s possible to conclude that it brings and will bring lots of negative impacts for the environment.


*Discover what Eviation Aircraft did to reduce the impacts of aeroplanes in the environment here.


Agência Lusa. (16/03/2020). Coronavírus: menos um milhão de toneladas de CO2 por dia. Publico. [Consulted on 20/03/2020]. Available at: https://www.publico.pt/2020/03/16/ciencia/noticia/coronavirus-menos-milhao-toneladas-co2-dia-1907964

Quercus. (13/03/2020). Que impacte ambiental terá o coronavírus?. Quercus. [Consulted on 20/03/2020]. Available at: https://www.quercus.pt/comunicados/2020/marco-1/5839-que-impacte-ambiental-tera-o-coronavirus

NEWBURGER, Emma. (13/03/2020). Coronavirus could weaken climate change action and hit clean energy investment, researchers warn. CBNC. [Consulted on 20/03/2020]. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/13/coronavirus-could-weaken-climate-change-action-hit-clean-energy.html

MARTINS, Andreia. (17/03/2020). Covid-19. Pandemia levou a redução drástica da poluição na China e em Itália. RTP. [Consulted on 20/03/2020]. Available at: https://www.rtp.pt/noticias/mundo/covid-19-pandemia-levou-a-reducao-drastica-da-poluicao-na-china-e-em-italia_n1212734

GOMES, João. (01/04/2020). Não, a pandemia não é boa para o ambiente. Mas pode deixar pistas para um futuro sustentável. Observador. [Consulted on 15/04/2020]. Available at: https://observador.pt/especiais/nao-a-pandemia-nao-e-boa-para-o-ambiente-mas-pode-deixar-pistas-para-um-futuro-sustentavel/

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