While the full scope of the effects COVID-19 has had on the environment is yet to be seen, the rapid shift in global behavior has both benefitted and harmed the planet’s ecosystem in different ways. With lockdown and stay at home measures keeping people safe, this is a rare time in modern history where we can monitor the impact humans are having on the environment.
Environmental researchers will be studying COVID-19’s effect on the ecosystem for years to come.
It is important to note that the positive and negative effects listed below are evolving as the pandemic continues and each effect may shift towards having more of a negative impact or positive impact than what is currently being predicted.
How Has the Environment Been Positively Impacted?
Improved Global Air Quality
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor air quality results in an estimated 4.2 million deaths every year. 91% of the population lives in areas where the air quality exceeds WHO recommendations. A reduction of air pollution has been shown to not only help with climate change, but can also reduce the risks of COVID-19.
During the first initial months of lockdown, China produced an estimated 200 million fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide when compared to the same time period in 2019. One study estimated that this temporary reduction in air pollution will save 77,000 lives.
We have yet to see if this change will last or if countries will ramp up production and carbon emissions to make up for lost GDP.
Improved Water Quality
With less boats in the water, and a reduction in air pollution, urban areas are seeing a sharp increase in water quality, as is the case in Venice’s canal water. We have yet to see the long-term effects of COVID-19 on water quality, as many are concerned about the increase of disposable plastics decreasing the quality of water on a global scale.
Reduced Seismic Noise
With less concerts, commuting, and outdoor activity, seismologists have a rare opportunity to better monitor earthquakes and volcanic activity while seismic noise has been reduced globally by 50%.
Increase in Telecommuting
With quarantine and social distancing best practices resulting in many businesses adopting mandatory work from home policies until COVID-19 is no longer an imminent threat, more and more businesses are considering telecommuting as a permanent option. On average, telecommuting uses 40% less emissions, 32% less paper, and 20% less energy consumed when compared to being in an office. Not to mention the reduced number of cars on the road, which has a direct impact on our environment and rush hour traffic.
Online Shopping Reduces Food Waste
Small-scale farmers and grocery stores around the world have embraced the rise of online grocery shopping during the pandemic, resulting in a 40% rise in online grocery sales. This benefit is a bit of a mixed bag for the environment, as fresh produce can skip languishing on store shelves, leading to decreased food waste, but the increase in deliveries results in more carbon emissions.
Increased Accuracy in Weather Forecasts
Yes, you read that right. The ongoing pandemic is predicted to temporarily increase the accuracy of your local weather forecasts. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) made an announcement stating that the worldwide reduction in aircraft flights could increase the accuracy of weather forecasts. Being able to accurately predict climate has huge benefits for businesses within the agriculture and farming industries.
How Has the Environment Been Negatively Impacted?
With countries enforcing mandatory lockdown to help flatten the curve against coronavirus, unemployment rates have risen, leading to an increase in illegal deforestation operations in areas like the Amazon rainforest. There are several companies that are addressing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest that could use your help. These companies include Amazon Watch, Amazon Conservation Team, and Amazon Conservation, to name a few.
Plastics demand for use in the production of disposable medical masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment has surged during the pandemic, with many consumers littering their PPE after use; Hong Kong’s beaches, for example, have seen a huge amount of face masks washing up on shore. You can learn how to do your part in preventing litter by reviewing these tips.
Decrease in Public Transit
As businesses start to open back up and more employees begin commuting again, we are seeing less and less commuters using public transit in efforts to reduce their chances of getting COVID-19. This is good for reducing the spread of COVID-19 but is leading to an increase in single driver vehicles on the road, which is very bad for the environment on a global scale.
Large-Scale Shift in Psychological Risk
Arguably one of the largest environmental dangers related to COVID-19 is the global shift in perceived risk. With the negative effects of COVID-19 being immediate and apparent to the general population, the long-term effects of damaging our planet’s ecosystem have been pushed to the back of people’s minds while we continue to fight the pandemic.
This is most apparent in the postponement of the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference, a meeting that is instrumental in holding governments accountable to their environmental contributions in the Paris Agreement. The conference has been moved to 2021, but we are already seeing the negative effects of this delay.
The United States federal government has temporarily suspended certain laws within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This allows polluters to ignore some environmental laws if they claim the violations were caused by the pandemic.
In Summary, What Are the Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on Our Ecosystem?
It’s impossible for us to know for sure what long-term impacts COVID-19 will have on our ecosystem, but it has resulted in new conversations about where our attention should be focused to have the largest influence on reducing climate change. The long-term effects of the pandemic on our environment will be determined by the actions we take and the conversations we have right now. Learn what your business can do to reduce its carbon footprint. If you are a municipality, you can apply for the Green Municipal Fund to receive up to 10M in funding towards eligible green projects.
Many businesses are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Canadian government is here to help. New COVID-19 business financial support programs are opening and evolving. Learn about the latest program updates by visiting our COVID-19 support page or register for one of Mentor Works’ free business support webinars below.