Global lockdown has resulted in healthier environments: Environmental activists

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The global lockdown as a result of the coronavirus has had remarkable impacts on the environment, according to environmental justice campaigners.

When the world’s largest economies, like India, China and the United States imposed nationwide lockdowns in 2020, it was designed to stop the imminent spread of the coronavirus. However, restricting movement and forcing the temporary closure of the globe’s biggest polluters has provided a temporary remedy to global warming.

In cities across the world, the streets have emptied of people and vehicles, factories have shut down and flights have been grounded, resulting in significant reductions of the planet’s pollution levels. Bobby Peek is the Director of Environmental Justice Organisation Ground Work.

“The way climate change is going to be dealt with is probably though economic collapse. COVID-19 has resulted in a global collapse and as a result we have seen a huge reduction is pollution levels. China, India SA etc, however recognising that the economy is under stress has put poor people at risk. The rich are surviving. Not only are the poor at risk because of the health but also because they are losing jobs. We need to find way to make this happen in a way that the poor benefit,” says Peek.

Peek warns that the current lockdown will soon be a considered normal when the effects of climate change become more real and dangerous.

“In COVID-19, we are living now in a situation that we will face if we don’t deal seriously and meaningfully with Climate Change. We are going to be living in lockdown in the future. In this time of COVID-19, we need to use this process and make sure that we develop mechanisms to allow us to respond to what is coming in terms of climate change,” says Peek.

The polluted canals in the Italian city of Venice are reported to be clearer than seen in decades. According to images from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), China has shown a significant decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution since the country announced its lockdown.

In India, grinding the country’s 1.3 billion people to a halt has resulted in much lower levels of pollution. Bukelwa Nzimande Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa says the virus has forced a change in human behaviour thus positively impacting the environment.

“Cities have reported and recognised the silver lining, amidst this dark cloud that we all face as a collective. There have been reports of cleaner water and cleaner air due to less pollution. There are less cars on the road a fewer industries in operation. What the virus is done, it has forced humanity governments, corporates to make decisions, resulting in this positive change,” says Nzimande.

Call for permanent behavioural change

Greenpeace Africa is calling for world leaders to implement policy that will see the global population not returning to irresponsible behaviour, after the coronavirus pandemic has been combated.

Nzimande says the current impact on the environment is proof that behavioural change can go a long way in mitigating against the harmful effects of climate change.

“The lockdown has basically forced us to change the way that we are living. We are in our homes, there are less cars on the road, fossil fuels industries are on lockdown. If government take this seriously, to ensure that once this is over, we don’t go back to the world that we knew, we don’t go back to a polluted environment and sick people. The more toxic the air we breathe the more we as humanity will feel it. Air pollution has hectic impact on our health systems,” says Nzimande.