According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The WHO also reported that people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment unless those with underlying medical problems which are more likely to develop serious illness.
The question now is what’s the origin of the virus? A study by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported that most of the new infectious diseases come from human-animal contact and were triggered by a jump from animal to human in disturbed natural habitats.
With reference to coronavirus disease in 2019, there’s widespread report that the virus was transmitted to humans at a market in Wuhan, China where wildlife was being sold. Therefore, the virus is the creation of commercial production and consumption patterns and is very much part of the harmful environmental changes it is causing.
Thus, for a country to continue producing and be able to declare that their economy is growing, humans must be harvesting the natural resources of the planet and plugging them into an industrial cycle which puts out various consumables and further generate waste. Thus, the process diminishes the ability of the ecosystem to balance itself and disrupts ecological cycles while at the same time; it adds a large amount of waste which leads to climate change.
As noted above, the same process might also be responsible for coronavirus disease and other outbreaks. The need for more natural resources has forced humans to encroach on various natural habitats and expose themselves to yet unknown pathogens. COVID-19 and climate change are rooted in the same abusive economic behaviour and both have proven to be deadly for humans, governments have seen them as separate and unconnected phenomena and have therefore responded rather differently to them.
The rapid response to COVID-19 around the world illustrates the remarkable capacity of society to put the emergency brake on business-as-usual simply by acting in the moment. It shows that we can take drastic action if we want to, especially on global climate change issues. As simple as the way daily updates on the death toll from coronavirus pandemic is being reported, if climate change information were being reported as COVID-19 pandemic daily updates, the world would have taken climate change issues more serious because climate change is much deadlier than the virus in the long run.
For instance, an increase in an average surface temperature could lead to several disasters and might likely affect our ability to produce food by decreasing the fertility of soils, increasing droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and further loss of pollinators, among others. Therefore, as long as mass industrial production and consumption are not being discouraged in order to reduce our emissions, climate change issues will continue to take its toll and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target will not be met by 2030.
Lockdowns across the globe have already resulted in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, for example carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide in countries that are polluting more. For environmentalists, this temporary decrease in GHG should not be a cause for celebration. The fact is that, as a result of the lockdowns, millions of people have already lost their jobs and hundreds of millions will probably struggle amid the economic downturn the outbreak is causing.
The current response to COVID-19 could help usher in some of these changes. It could get us accustomed to lifestyles and work patterns that minimise consumption. It could encourage us to commute and travel less, reduce household waste, and rely more on local supply chains. The decline in carbon emissions that has resulted from coronavirus lockdowns could easily be reversed as the lockdown is only for the short term.
For environmental experts, year 2020 is supposed to be an important year for decisions on climate change so as to limit the impact of global warming but the calendar for climate change activities is changing. For example, the COP26 UN climate change conference, which was scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland this year, was postponed until 2021. The conference was supposed to be the most important UN climate change meeting after COP21 which was held in Paris and where parties signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. Also, the COP26 was supposed to be a platform for countries to come back with new pledges so as to limit warming to a certain degree threshold.
But the postponement of the COP26 climate change conference will give countries more time to prepare for the summit especially in the area of climate change and public health as coronavirus appears to have caught all countries of the world unprepared. Cleaner air and lower emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic will be a topic of discussion during the COP26 as most countries have experienced less emission and fresh air due to lockdowns and other measures that were put in place in order to stop the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 has suspended normality across the globe. With everyone’s attention now focused on fighting the virus, what does this mean for the fight against climate change? One thing is certain, the quality of air during this pandemic period has increased significantly due to the drop in air pollution as factories, cars and heavy equipments are not operating at full capacity and thus great reduction in global CO2 emissions. So, COVID-19 is changing our lifestyle and impacting greatly on the ecosystems.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted on the Earth in a positive way as the use of transportation across the globe has decreased drastically due to the lockdown of the larger population which in turn is giving the planet Earth the much-needed break to heal itself but very slow. A study by a team of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University reported that the Earth needs, on average, about 10 million years to recover from a mass extinction of the planet’s species, far longer than most scientists thought.
As God will have it, climate scientists and environmentalists have been advocating for a reduction in emission level for sustainable development and future generations, but these were not possible at all international climate summits. But, today, COVID-19 is making the impossible target to become possible as things are happening right now in terms of reduction in global emissions while the Earth’s healing process is ongoing. Ecosystems are been restored as fewer human activities is taking place globally. This is commendable as it has environmental benefits but it’s unplanned and it is just temporary as global economies will resume their normal activities immediately after the pandemic is over.
To this end, there are lessons to be learnt from the coronavirus pandemic response which can help in tackling climate change issues in order to reduce global emissions so that we can achieve the global sustainable development goals and further global green economy.
By Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris (Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University, Keffi; email@example.com)