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Climate Change and COVID-19

written by FuturisticLawyer
March 6, 2021
Introduction

At some future point, the COVID-19 vaccines will be widely distributed, face masks and physical distancing measures will be abandoned by governments, the economic wheels will turn at full speed again, and the world gets back to a new normal. With the extensive media coverage of COVID-19 and the radical restrictions, many of us are forced to endure at the moment, it is easy to forget that the COVID-19 pandemic is only a small symptom of a much larger problem.

The larger problem is of course that we have built a global society in an unsustainable way, not in tune with the ways of nature. As long as we overexploit earth’s natural resources and pollute as much as we do, it is only a matter of years, before the next pandemic or the next global catastrophe sets in motion.  As we shall see, the COVID-19 pandemic is intimately linked with climate change. Additionally, green investments and policy regulations that favor renewable energy, are vitally important to keep global warming in check as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

Connection Between Climate Change and COVID-19

There is no direct evidence that climate change is directly influencing the spread of COVID-19.[1] However, deforestation and warmer temperatures caused by climate change, force animals to leave their natural habitats and get in contact with other species that they would normally not encounter. In this way, bats and other animals that carry diseases may transmit them to humans.

A common effect of climate change is droughts and floods that lead to crop failure and famine in developing countries. The poor and starving locals are forced to hunt and eat more wild animals, which increases the likelihood of animal viruses crossing over into humans.[2] As many of us already know, scientists have suspected that COVID-19 likely originated from bats in a wild animal market in Wuhan.

Another anticipated effect of the increasing heat is tropical diseases spreading to the northern and southern hemispheres, where the diseases have not been seen before and people have no immunity.[3] An even scarier, at least theoretical possibility, is that the melting permafrost contains ancient, frozen bacteria that humans have no medicines or antibiotics for. The bacteria could be released into the water system as the ice melts.[4]

Climate change has also been found to reduce air quality, especially in densely populated areas.[5] Burning fossil fuels releases both air pollutants and greenhouse gases.[6] One study has estimated that a total of 10.2 million annual premature deaths, were directly attributable to the fossil-fuel component of PM2.5.[7] A few studies have indicated that cities with poorer air quality are prone to a higher death rate of COVID-19 than cleaner ones.[8] Accordingly, climate change and the burning of fossil fuels have a direct impact on public health and our resilience against viruses such as COVID-19.

The Importance of a Green Recovery from COVID-19

Even small changes in the global average temperature may have dramatic effects such as the large-scale meltdown of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, forest collapse in the Amazon, mass coral bleaches, disruption of Asian monsoons, and much warmer ocean temperatures. The damage to the earth’s life support systems would be irreversible and ultimately threaten human existence.

Strong scientific evidence shows that the global warming we experience now is unnatural and human-induced.  The burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal, releases carbon dioxide into the air and causes the planet to heat up due to the greenhouse effect. For this reason, The European Union, The United Kingdom, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, together with more than 110 other countries, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, and China has pledged to get there before 2060.[9]

Based on leading science, humanity will potentially be doomed if the global temperature rises more than 2°C within the next decades. Almost all countries in the world are parties to the Paris Agreement, and they have pledged “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”[10]  Emissions must fall by half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050 to reach the 1.5 °C goal.[11]

A green recovery from COVID-19 is crucial to fulfilling The Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.  According to the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP’S) Emissions Gap Report (2020), a green recovery could cut expected emissions in 2030 by up to 25 %, and boost the chance of keeping temperature rise to below 2°C, up to 66 %.[12]

The mass global shift to “staying home” has led to extraordinary decreases in production and transportation.[13] According to UNEP’s Emission Gap Report, the pandemic-linked economic slowdown is expected to cause a drop of up to 7 % in emissions for 2020.[14] However, in a wider perspective, the dip is insignificant, as the expected 2020 fall in emissions translates to a 0.01°C reduction of global warming by 2050.[15]

On our current path, we are heading towards a 3.2°C warmer climate at the end of this century, even if all nations succeed in their current climate ambitions.[16] Such an increase in the global temperature would make large regions and big cities unlivable, due to sea level rises, heatwaves, smog, and natural disasters, and in all likelihood spark new pandemics, like the one we are currently experiencing.

Green investments and policy measures geared towards renewable energy (e.g., carbon taxes) are vitally important to deal with climate change as the world recovers from COVID-19. The decisions we make now will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond.[17]

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[1] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/ (28-02-2021).

[2] https://www.joboneforhumanity.org/20_worst_consequences_of_global_warming (06-03-2021).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See H. Orru, K. L. Ebi, and B. Forsberg  (2017), The Interplay of Climate Change and Air Pollution on Health, Curr Environ Health Rep. 2017; 4(4): 504–513.

[6] https://unece.org/unece-and-sdgs/improving-air-quality-while-fighting-climate-change (28-02-2021).

[7] Vohra et. al (2021), Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem, Environmental Research Volume 195, April 2021, 110754.

[8] Joseph Ching & Mizuo Kajino (2020), Rethinking Air Quality and Climate Change after COVID-19,  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17(14):516, pg. 3.

[9] https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sgsm20411.doc.htm (28-02-2021).

[10] Paris Agreement (2015), Article 2 (1) (a).

[11] https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sgsm20411.doc.htm (06-03-2021).

[12] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1079602 (27-02-2021).

[13] Arden Rowel (2020), COVID-19 and Environmental Law, Environmental Law Reporter, 50 ELR 10881.

[14] United Nations Environment Programme (2020), Emissions Gap Report 2020, pg. 9.

[15] Ibid. pg. 35.

[16] Ibid.

[17] https://twitter.com/unep/status/1329650753410109441 (06-03-2021)

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Comments

2 Comments

  1. Evode

    Nice contribution. What is your opinion on other possible issues such as climate refugees? or the fact that modern Carbon capturing methods contribute to more CO2 pollution? https://youtu.be/cxVFopLpIQY

    Reply
    • FuturisticLawyer

      Thanks for your comment, Evode.

      Climate refugees will be an important political issue in the coming years, and it already is today. There is no way that countries can welcome all of them. As always, when it comes to climate change, I think the answer lies in technology and innovative solutions. We need so-called climate adaption technologies to help namely the developing countries in coping with difficulties arising from climate changes. In my first article on this blog, I wrote about how climate change may boost the economic growth and welfare of developing countries: https://futuristiclawyer.com/2020/06/25/climate-change-as-a-facilitator-of-growth-in-developing-countries/

      I have not heard that Carbon Caputure and Storage technologies could majorly contribute to more CO2-pollution, but I will look into it.

      I could see myself write about CCS technologies as well as climate refugees in future articles this years. Thanks for the input

      Reply

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