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COVID-19 Is Not A Silver Lining For The Climate, Says UN Environment Chief

COVID-19 Is Not A Silver Lining For The Climate, Says UN Environment Chief
16 April 2020 | Updated 05 August 2020
 

The UN Environment Chief has warned against viewing the effect of COVID-19 on climate change as a “silver lining”.

Instead, Inger Andersen is calling for “a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet”.

Others have identified the environmental outcome of lockdown as evidence for the realistic potential of low-carbon living.

 

“This is no one’s model of environmental response, least of all an environmentalist’s.”

–Inger Andersen

Environment Chief, United Nations

 

Large improvement in air quality

 

The UK’s lockdown has already seen a large improvement in air quality, with measurements of toxic particulate matter reducing in many major cities. The nationwide shutdown is being credited, by some, as an example of how low-carbon ambitions can be achieved.

According to The Guardian, the data shows drops in particle pollution of a third to a half in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, falls of about quarter in Manchester, York and Belfast, with smaller declines in Glasgow and Newcastle. 

For nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution, the data also shows declines of a third to a half in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, and drops of 10-20 per cent in the other cities.  

In Leicester, air quality monitoring stations have recorded large reductions in pollution levels – down to around half compared to previous months. Leicester deputy city mayor for the environment, Councillor Adam Clarke, said: 

“Obviously we don’t expect pollution levels to remain this low once the lockdown is eased and life eventually returns to normal – but the improvements to air quality do offer a tantalising glimpse of how things could be if we all thought a bit more carefully about whether or not our daily car journeys are essential, and if more people used cleaner, healthier forms of transport such as cycling and walking more often.”

 

A different economy

 

The head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, wrote about her thoughts on the matter in a first-person piece on the United Nations’ website.

She wrote:

“Visible, positive impacts – whether through improved air quality or reduced greenhouse gas emissions – are but temporary, because they come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress.

“The pandemic will also result in an increase in the amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated. This is no one’s model of environmental response, least of all an environmentalist’s. And indeed, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has highlighted that fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10 percent around the world, and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels.”

Anderson concludes that, post-pandemic, we must examine how our management of nature can be part of a “different economy”. 

“One where finance and actions fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life, because the health of people and the health of the planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure."

 

A critical juncture

 

"We are at a critical juncture in planning how to overcome this global health crisis and once the dust settles, exactly what this will look like is yet to be determined.”

–Steve Malkin

CEO & Founder, The Planet Mark

 

We spoke to Steve Malkin. CEO & Founder of The Planet Mark, who told us about how the crisis has revealed the interconnectedness of our entire system:

"COVID 19 is making clear how interconnected the world is, and the unfolding pandemic has shone a light on the domino effect that is activated when one element in this interconnected system is damaged. This crisis teaches us that we can’t go it alone in trying to solve difficult problems. It calls on all of us to come together with compassion and humility.

"We are at a critical juncture in planning how to overcome this global health crisis and once the dust settles, exactly what this will look like is yet to be determined. We may also all need ambitious and robust plans to be prepared for any future pandemics.

"The same is also true of climate change. What we know is that by aligning the best of people, technology and nature we can take action to rebuild from this in a way that delivers a healthy future for everyone, through greater resilience and a clear pathway to a more sustainable future.”

Picture: A row of cars on a street

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 16 April 2020

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