With air travel and car use drastically cut as the world went into lockdown, we look at the effect Covid-19 has had on the environment.
In April, during the early days of lockdown, the world marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Organised in the US in the aftermath of a massive oil spill off the coast of California, the day was created as a call for environmental action and led to landmark legislation such as the Clean Air Act. Since then, there have been great strides in the environmental movement, with renewable energy now a serious business and oil spills a rare occurrence. But many problems are worse, such as climate change, species becoming extinct, and global deforestation.
Half a century on from Earth Day, the world faces another crisis in the form of a global pandemic. But while the human toll is undoubtedly great – and will be for some time to come – there are some small areas of comfort and insight when it comes to the environment.
“Global emissions in 2020 could fall by 5.5% from 2019 levels”
Record low emissions
With airlines grounded, industry grinding to a halt and many fewer cars on the road, there’s been a rapid decline in carbon emissions. Back in February, as China shut down its industries, emissions decreased by a stunning 25% over a four-week period1. Another analysis in early April estimated that global emissions in 2020 could fall by 5.5% from 2019 levels2. If proved true, this would be the largest ever fall in carbon emissions – more than any economic crisis or period of war in history.
This decrease in emissions has resulted in a sharp drop in air pollution across the world. Satellite images from the European Space Agency have shown that the levels of nitrogen dioxide, the gas produced by vehicle engines and industrial machinery, are significantly lower than this time last year. According to NASA, levels of nitrogen dioxide across eastern and central China have been 10-30% lower than usual, while levels in northern Italy, one of Europe’s pollution hot spots, have fallen by around 40%.
Another consequence of the decrease in air and land traffic is the proliferation of wildlife. Many people report the dawn chorus becoming louder and longer, farm animals are strolling around village centres, and bears and coyotes have even been reported to be taking residence in empty lodges in Yosemite National Park in California.
Meanwhile in Florida, restrictions on visiting the beaches have meant that endangered leatherback sea turtles have been thriving, laying more eggs than previous years and raising hopes of a bumper nesting season. “We expect that thousands of hatchlings that ordinarily would be disoriented by lights this nesting season will not be, and are more likely to survive to reach the sea,” said David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
World Land Trust
Of course, while these are all positive indications of what the world could be like if emissions were kept low, history shows that after any crisis, economic systems bounce back – harder and stronger to make up for lost revenue. Emissions slip back to their previous levels, deforestation continues without breaking stride, and invaluable natural habitat and animal species are lost forever.
Working tirelessly to prevent this is World Land Trust, which protects the world’s most biologically significant habitats by funding the creation of reserves to provide permanent protection for habitats and wildlife. World Land Trust receives funding from the Carbon Balanced Paper scheme, which enables brands and organisations to reduce the carbon impact of their printed communications. By using Carbon Balanced Paper and its range of certified printers, you can not only reduce your carbon emissions but generate funds that will help World Land Trust to save the world’s most endangered habitats.
The world may be going through one of its worst periods of crisis, but by carbon balancing your paper, you can help to ensure that at least something good can come out of this situation.
1Carbon Brief, February 2020
2Carbon Brief, April 2020