Impact of the pandemic on climate change

The pandemic is not a solution for climate change. Photo: Shutterstock
The pandemic is not a solution for climate change. Photo: Shutterstock

There was a decrease in greenhouse emissions due to reduced traffic and manufacturing activity, but this did not last long

By S.N.Millenium

According to an international study published in the UK-based journal National Climate Change, the pandemic has resulted in a 17 percent reduction in global carbon emissions between January and April 2020.

However, this change didn’t last due to the long-term accumulation of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gas concentrations are the result of various past and present air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

These greenhouse gases trap heat at the Earth’s surface which results in the raising of global temperatures. Global warming in turn endangers the food supplies, intensifies severe weather events like tropical storms and heatwaves, and increases the risk of flooding due to rising sea levels.

Many countries have signed on to the Paris Agreement in 2015, intending to reduce pollution levels caused by various human activities such as cutting of trees, plastic use and disposal, and the use of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation.

These countries have set a goal of shifting to long-term renewable energy sources such as solar power, optimal utilization of various water treatment plants, tree planting, cutting off plastic usage, recycling, and so on.

Effect of rise in carbon dioxide levels

Carbon dioxide levels are measured in parts per million (ppm), which represents the total amount of CO2 that is present in the atmosphere. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global average of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 was 410.5ppm, whereas scientists consider 350ppm as a safe limit. 

According to a BBC report, a monthly average of carbon dioxide concentrations at Mauna Loa, a central atmospheric monitoring station in Hawaii where carbon dioxide data is collected, was 411.29ppm in September 2020, the highest in three million years. 

Similarly, CO2 concentrations at Cape Grim, a major air pollution measurement station in Tasmania, increased to 410.8ppm in September 2020, up from 408.58 in 2019.

As the carbon dioxide levels have risen, global temperatures have also risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, says a report by WMO. According to scientists, if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, droughts, stronger hurricanes, and extreme sea-level rise will all worsen.

“As a result of climate change, millions of people are at risk of flooding and other natural disasters. Obtaining clean drinking water would be difficult in many parts of the world. And it will be the poor who will suffer the most at first,” said Subhraseema Das, a scholar and environmentalist at the Ravenshaw University.

Long-term impact requires consistency 

The worldwide lockdowns imposed to control Covid-19 resulted in a reduction in transportation and industrial activity. It also reduced the demand for oil and coal in many countries.

While the decline in the carbon emissions during the initial phase of the lockdown didn’t have a long-lasting solution for climate change. But this showed the possibility of attaining the change if these practices are carried out daily. 

According to the Nation Climate Change report, emissions from land transportation accounted for nearly half (43 percent) of the reduction, with power generation accounting for 19 percent, manufacturing accounting for 25 percent, and aviation accounting for 10 percent. 

Due to lower emission levels, the environment was clean and the air was fresh during the first months of 2020. However, after the lockdown was lifted, the situation returned to normal, with thick and unhealthy air.

“The pandemic is not a solution for climate change. Only when people are conscious and aware of their surroundings, things can change for the better,” said Soumya Ranjan Panda, an environmental activist.

A look-back into 2020

The year 2020 was devastating due to a number of reasons relating to climate change, which are still being carried forward to the current year. Beginning with the frequent hurricanes in the Atlantic, bushfires in Australia, and fires in California that have burned over four million hectares.

Global temperatures have risen to the point that Russian officials in Moscow have had to import artificial snow for the holidays. The melting of ice sheets along with high temperatures were recorded in polar regions. The temperature in Verkhoyansk, Siberia, reached 38°C on June 20, 2020, the highest temperature ever reported in the Arctic Circle region.

Not just that, but flooding in Central Africa and Cyclone Amphan, which killed hundreds of people in India and Bangladesh, have been equally destructive. In 2021, glacier bursts in Chamoli alomg with floods and forest fires continue to rage in various places of India.