‘The outbreak of epidemics like COVID-19 reveal the fundamental tenets of the trade-off we consistently face: humans have unlimited needs, but the planet has limited capacity to satisfy them.’ – Pushpam Kumar, United Nations Environment Programme, Chief Environmental Economist (UN Environment Programme, 2020)
Here are the environmental impacts that have been reported since global COVID-19 lockdowns.
Air pollution has reduced
Air pollution is a significant contributor to a range of human health issues and contributes to around 7 million deaths globally every year according to the World Health Organisation.
Nearly all of the world’s populations breathe in poor air quality. This is mainly caused as a by-product of modern human activity, such as transport, energy, waste and industry. Across the world, cities have seen a reduction in air pollution and improvement in air quality due to restrictions on movement.
China reported that data indicated an 84.5 percent increase in days with good air quality between January and March 2020, which has been suggested to have prevented 50,000 to 75,000 people dying. Further research from IQAir has reported that deadly air pollution in 10 cities (including New Delhi, Seoul, Mumbai) has reduced by up to 60 percent during lockdown. Paradoxically, research also shows that 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in four cities were in the most air polluted areas, indicating that air pollution may worsen the illness.
Via BBC: Residents of Istanbul say dolphins are coming further up the Bosphorus than usual
Wildlife has been given a chance
From the devastating bushfires Australia saw over the summer, in which at least 20 species were pushed closer to extinction, it is beautiful to now see photos of animals flourishing in some areas.
It would make sense that areas that are normally congested full of tourists and pollution are now quieter for wildlife to explore. There’s been no conclusive evidence that there’s been a drastic change, however, isolated examples have been shown such as vulnerable leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles have been flourishing in Florida. There have been some viral images of animals that have been fake, however (such as the dolphins in Venice).
It is also interesting to note that the blurring of boundaries between humans and animals is a significant cause of new infectious pathogens (zoonotic diseases).
This has meant that COVID-19 has pushed temporary and potentially long-term bans on live wildlife markets, such as the sale of live wolf pups. China has issued a temporary ban on this, however, the United Nations have called for this to be long-term globally, not only for the benefit of animal rights but human population health.