Coronavirus and Climate Change

Coronavirus and Climate Change

The unprecedented outbreak of respiratory disease with an unknown cause was discovered in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China in December 2019. Later in January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Chinese outbreak, COVID-19, a health emergency of international concern posing a particularly high risk to countries with vulnerable health systems. Emergency response to this outbreak indicates that the spread of COVID-19 can be interrupted by early detection, isolation, prompt treatment as well as contact tracing. This pandemic has taken a massive toll on all areas of life as we know it. The containment measures put in place include travel restrictions, working from home, and the strict handwashing regimen, without a doubt, affect regular daily lives, including the earth’s carbon footprint. The measures put in place as containment methods are foreseen to have significant positive effects on the environment with the possibility of a few negatives.


Ever since the industrial revolution, the emission of Greenhouse gases has increased, reaching their highest levels in the past decade. Climate change comprises already occurring or yet to occur changes in the earth’s climate as a result of human activities or natural processes. The changes include increasing temperatures in both the air and sea, a change in rainfall patterns, a rise in sea levels, and frequent and more intense extreme events such as droughts and floods (SPREP, n.d.). Naturally occurring climate change occurs due to interaction with the sun by the cycles of water and energy, which were previously caused by phenomena such as slow shifts in earth’s orbit as well as changes in volcanic and solar activities. However, actions by human beings have caused a sudden and fast turn-around in the climate by releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The fast-growing population in every continent across the world comes with an increase for basic needs such as food, water, and shelter that as well put additional pressure on the earth’s resources. The universe is warming up with a marked increase of almost one degree in the global surface temperature between 1901 and 2012 (SPREP, n.d.). The change in temperature may seem small, but it has caused significant changes in snow cover, rainfall, and ocean currents, among others. Therefore, if we were to experience another increase by one degree, then the earth risks to lose many climate-sensitive species and coral reef ecosystems with the human beings suffering as well as the bodies cannot cope with a sustained temperature rise.

The global pandemic has continued at a swift pace since its outbreak, therefore, eliciting a comprehensive response that has never been seen before. Governments and businesses have taken up new roles as a response to the crisis, therefore re-organizing work, travel, and socialization and thus leading to transformational changes that would otherwise appear impossible (Crawford, V. 2020). All the changes have brought about an interruption in energy demands and the emission of carbon dioxide. A previous Carbon Brief analysis shows that the crisis cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent in China with a notable below normal emission rate two months after the state-enforced lockdown. With more countries following suit by enforcing lockdowns, industrial activities, as well as transport use and electricity demands (Evans, S. 2020), are foreseen to reduce the carbon dioxide emission rates further globally.

Positive Effects of Coronavirus to the Environment

Fewer Carbon Emissions

Businesses and companies now realize that their operations can remain afloat while maintaining productivity by letting their employees work from home so that everyone keeps safe and healthy. This is good for the environment as carbon emissions have been reduced from daily commutes and traffic congestion, thereby improving air quality (Brzezinski, K. 2020). Many of the major towns where the lockdown measures are strictly enforced have noted cleaner and fresher air throughout the day. The article by Brzezinski (2020) cites that working from home has the potential of reducing over a hundred million tonnes of carbon emissions per annum.

However, the crises in the past, show a trend of rapid recovery of the emissions when the pandemic dies down, but this can be changed by a permanent adoption of the current work behaviors. According to Peters (2020), the airline industry, which covers about 2.6 percent of global carbon emissions, is rapidly decreasing. Since it may take a long time for air travel to pick once more, global carbon dioxide emissions will likely drop this year. As long as the coronavirus crisis continues, the economic activities will be reduced, and therefore emissions will remain low temporarily. For a long term effect on reversing the climatic changes, environmental campaigners demand that cushioning packages for transport and manufacturing companies need to incorporate provisions for reducing significant emissions in future operations (Hamwey, R. 2020). These measures could go a long way in preventing the levels of pollutant emissions from rising to the alarming levels they were at before the crisis.

Improved Air Quality

Air quality has improved immensely in China and Italy, among other countries like France, that had total lockdown measures in place. On average, the good quality air days increased by 21.5 percent in February as compared to the same period in 2019 (Brzezinski, K. 2020). According to the article by Brzezinski, the Venice Canal is also seen to be running cleaner and clearer, leaving the residents amazed and marveled by its appearance. Aside from carbon emissions, the levels of nitrogen oxides and other Greenhouse gases, as well as pollution from other matter has decreased, all leading to cleaner air and the surroundings.

Negative Effects of Coronavirus to the Environment

Increase in Waste Levels                                   

The stay at home orders have led to an increase in the volumes of unrecyclable wastes. This is because a good number of municipalities have postponed their recycling activities over fears of increased spread of the virus in recycling centers. Additionally, food retailers, having health concerns over the reuse of paper bags, have resumed using plastic bags at the checkout areas. The lockdown policies have also seen more consumers increase their consumption of take-away food, which is delivered using packaging suitable for single-use (Hamwey, R. 2020). All these add to the challenges that the waste management industry has amidst their worries of spreading and contracting the disease as they go on with their normal operations.

The export industry is also suffering and especially for perishable agricultural and fishery commodities, which lead to an increase in organic waste. This is brought about by the import restrictions due to closed borders and declines in the availability of cargo transportation. All the surplus produce that cannot be consumed by the local markets goes to waste, which is left to decay. The decaying matter produces methane gas into the environment, which is also a greenhouse gas and therefore providing another challenge to the environment. The levels are expected to rise in a steep curve during and even in the months after the crisis (Hamwey, R. 2020). Aside from organic waste, many workers in the agricultural industry are left unemployed as the firms aim to reduce production to avoid massive wastages.

Inhibited Vital Climate Discussions

Several climate discussions have been held in the past, which serve to give governments the foundation for drafting agreements and implementation of robust climate action. Due to the looming crisis, the United Nations has been forced to postpone all climate change talks, which are about a dozen until the emergency is more under control. The EU-China summit was also delayed, and the UN 2020 Biodiversity conference that is to take place in October is as well on the line (Brzezinski, K. 2020). These talks are critical to ensure each government acts towards limiting the effects of climate change, but since they are at a halt, the Earth is left at risk.

Unmonitored Ecosystems

Natural ecosystems, as well as the protected species, are at risk during the crisis as in a majority of the countries, workers of national parks alongside land and marine conservation zones are to stay at home because of lockdown measures. These workers have the critical task of environmental protection, which now is left unmonitored. Their absence has resulted in the rise of illegal deforestation, wildlife hunting, and fishing as well as encroachment activities (Hamwey, R. 2020). These environmental challenges due to containment measures will gradually resolve on their own after the crisis once economic activities go back to the regular; however, all effective measures should be put in place to ensure the air pollution is kept at a minimum.

Future Implications

The current situation should serve as an eye-opener, and we should seize the moment to adopt some of the measures in place to re-build the society, economy, and environment. Climate change poses a threat similar to that of an infectious disease to human lives, thereby requiring a swift response. The coronavirus pandemic, therefore, should teach the world to acknowledge how vulnerable it is to such disasters and therefore make leaders come up with effective proactive measures to reduce the effects. The crisis has also taught us that solidarity is of the essence as the events in one part of the world have the potential of affecting the whole world. Global solidarity and understanding that everyone in the world is connected will help build towards concrete climate actions (Crawford, V. 2020). Another important realization is that people are the topmost priority over businesses and even the governments. This is because life like we knew it has been rearranged to ensure social distancing, more volunteer works, and help directed towards the most vulnerable. These actions show that it is possible to have a large-scale response to crises, which is useful even in the fight for climate protection.


The unprecedented coronavirus crisis that began in late December has seen several measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus. Social distancing and working from home as well as lockdown policies have resulted in reduced emission of greenhouse gases, which is a positive impact on the climate as people now enjoy cleaner air. However, the adverse effects which are increased volume of both organic and unrecyclable waste pose a threat to the environment, effects that can be reversed post-crisis. The measures put in place and the swift action by governments towards this crisis can serve helpful if permanently implemented as proactive measures for climate action.


Available at:
[Accessed 8 May 2020].

Crawford, V., 2020. How COVID-19 might help us win the fight against climate change. [Online]
Available at:[Accessed 8 May, 2020].

Evans, S., 2020. Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions. [Online]
Available at:[Accessed 8 May, 2020].

Hamwey, R., 2020. Environmental impacts of coronavirus crisis, challenges ahead. [Online]
Available at:[Accessed 8 May, 2020].

Peters, G., 2020. How changes brought on by Covid-19 could help tackle climate change. [Online]
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SPREP, n.d. What Causes Climate Change. [Online]
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