EARTH is gradually recovering unnoticed due to the halt in various economic activities. The world is now surviving peacefully without threats as we are required to stay at home and “do nothing” during the movement control order (MCO), which will enter its fourth phase on Wednesday (April 29).
This art of “doing nothing” may appear unbearable to us, but not so for the Earth because it is experiencing a recovery process right now, as we do nothing.
Data from the Sentinel-5P satellite reveal that air pollution levels of nitrogen dioxide have decreased in Europe since the pandemic, while France has seen significant changes in air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions with 20-30% cleaner air in the first days of national confinement.
In Malaysia too, the number of metrology stations that reported “strong” air quality readings doubled from 28% to 57%.
Some claim that Covid-19 is a sign from God to step back and reflect on what we have done, what the consequences of our past misdeeds have been, and it is also clear that this catastrophe has made us realise that we have to accept responsibility for all the damage done.
While some disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, tend to bring out the best in people by pulling them together, pandemics tend to do the opposite.
It would seem the virus is holding up a mirror, forcing us to become aware of our behaviour and its impact on the system as a whole. That mirror gently invites us to make a few personal sacrifices that benefit the whole – to shift our inner place from ego to eco.
The United Nations Development Programme in Malaysia offers us three meaningful lessons from the current situation: flattening the climate curve, an opportunity for behavioural change and staying within planetary boundaries.
Long before Covid-19, the world was struggling with the challenge of flattening the greenhouse gas emissions curve.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we have only 10 years left to keep global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
At our current rate, global temperatures are on course to reach a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, signalling irreversible environmental catastrophe.
To keep global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius in this century, we must reduce carbon emissions as the world gets warmer by 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade.
As climate change is the greatest challenge we have ever faced, this moment should be embraced as a great opportunity to reinvent our society and economy as we want it, given the environmental effects of our current system.
Thus, the authorities should take advantage of this to think and plan for a better system to protect the Earth without jeopardising economic activity.
The negative side may be the rise in job losses, a drastic decrease in economic activity and the downfall of businesses, but that would make us aware that various economic practices were damaging our environment without considering the limits for the sake of wealth and power.
The Oslo Centre for International Climate and Environment Research has indicated that global emissions will begin to drop by 0.3% overall in 2020. This calls for economic stimulus measures that are centred on sectors with less impact on the climate.
As pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents with the lockdowns and restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, scientists have also projected that the carbon production will fall by about 5% in 2020.
But the reduction in emissions may be short-lived and would have a tiny effect on ambient carbon dioxide concentration levels without any structural changes.
Subsequently, emissions are likely to rebound as the economy recovers and the world should adopt more renewable energy and boost efficiency standards to encourage positive environmental impacts.
According to the International Energy Agency, to reach a carbon-neutral energy scenario, renewable energy should account for two-thirds of worldwide electricity supply by 2040.
Hence, the lessons learned once this pandemic is behind us will be very useful in rethinking the issue of various forms of pollution.
Perhaps one take-away from this global restriction on movement is the need for a global shutdown of mammoth industrial complexes for one week annually as we celebrate Earth Day to give the Earth a breather from emissions. This one-week shutdown can also be used for repair and maintenance work.
More aggressive policies on climate change are needed. This can take the form of channelling substantial resources and reallocation of investments into energy conservation and renewable energy.
It’s safe to say that no one would have wanted for emissions to be reduced this way via a pandemic which has taken a toll on human life, the economy, education and health services.
And it is also expected that the economic stimulus measures will be leveraged to provide investment opportunities both in the emissions-reducing infrastructure and in the renewable technologies.
This global crisis can have a huge effect on the climate, but it is important to note that not only will the government be taking the lead in protecting the environment, but all of us should offer our full cooperation.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a research assistant at EMIR Research. Comments: email@example.com