7 expert perspectives on what COVID-19 means for the planet

World Economic Forum оценили, как коронавирус повлияет на планету

Douglas Broom, World Economic Forum

Experts agree that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for years, even after the immediate threat has passed.

The way we live may have changed, perhaps for ever, but what about the impact on our planet? Here are 7 perspectives on what’s happening – and what we can do about it.

1. COVID-19 may have cut air pollution but we haven’t beaten climate change

At the height of the pandemic, many people took heart from the drop in air pollution resulting from global lockdowns. The reduction in economic activity took us back to daily levels last seen in 2006. But concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere are still rising.

Larissa Basso, a postdoctoral fellow at Stockholm University, says that’s because CO2 molecules can persist in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. And, regardless, she says the drop in emissions will only be temporary unless we address the root causes by changing the way we live.

The International Energy Agency has called for a global investment of $1 trillion to accelerate the move to zero-carbon energy. Its plan would create 9 million jobs a year, reduce emissions by 4.5 billion tonnes globally and deliver a sustainable recovery.

2. The food waste problem has been made worse

Mountains of food have been thrown away because the pandemic has closed restaurants, shops and takeaway food outlets. And, with much of the waste dumped in landfills, methane levels could rise as a result.

Methane is 20 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas and is thought to have been responsible for approaching a fifth of historic global warming. It makes up at least half of all emissions from landfills.

The World Economic Forum initiative ‘The Great Reset’ calls for urgent action to manage the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, including food waste at a time of rising global poverty. “We must invest in the future and transform our food systems to build a more inclusive and sustainable world,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said recently.

3. Single-use plastics are on the rise too

Plastic has played a vital role in keeping us safe and treating people suffering from COVID-19 – think masks and plastic cups. But some experts say it’s being used so much that we are storing up a plastics crisis for the future.

The pandemic threatens to stall or even reverse progress to reduce global plastic waste, says Jacob Duer, President and CEO, Alliance to End Plastic Waste. In the UK, illegal dumping of trash has risen 300% during the crisis.

In Thailand, the Environment Institute blames soaring home food deliveries for increasing levels of plastic waste from about 1,500 tonnes a day to about 6,000 tonnes. Duer urges companies and governments to work together to reduce plastic use and improve waste management.

4. Millions more people will be driven into poverty

The World Bank says as many as 100 million extra people could be pushed into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the global economy. That’s 100 million people forced to live on less than $1.90 a day.

Shrinking global GDP risks reversing recent progress in reducing the numbers of the world’s poorest people. A total of half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by COVID-19, according to Oxfam.

Of the 176 million people the World Bank expects to be pushed into poverty with an income below $3.20 a day, two-thirds are in South Asia. Only a robust global recovery will reverse this trend, it says.

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