During the global lockdown, many regions in the world witnessed a decline in water and air pollution attributed to a ban on travel and reduced industry activities. In China, the birthplace of the COVID 19 pandemic, The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported a 25 per cent reduction of carbon emission in the first month of the lockdown due to reduced road traffic, and industrial emissions. In Europe, a total of at least 11,000 deaths caused by air pollution was avoided during the lockdown. Wildlife also benefited from the lockdown, animals were seen coming into the spotlight as a result of lower human interference. In India, an endangered Civet Cat was spotted crossing the road and in South Africa, Lions were photographed taking a nap on the road.
While most regions benefited from the decline in pollution and were elated by the resurgence of wildlife due to the lockdown, countries like Nigeria and Botswana shared a different narrative. In Nigeria, land and water pollution declined due to reduced street garbage and sewage. However, the level of air pollution remained unchanged. Yes, carbon emissions from cars and industries plummeted but emissions from generators surged. This was attributable to the increased demand for power to charge electronic gadgets given more people were working from home. With the country’s national grid unable to provide undisrupted electricity to its population, residents are forced to rely on carbon-emitting alternative sources of power (generators). In Botswana, the absence of tourism exacerbated the ongoing Rhino poaching crisis in the country. Reduced human presence in remote areas in the country made it easier for poachers to move around unseen.
Although due to high levels of poverty, lack of social welfare and infrastructures, countries like Nigeria and Botswana might have missed out on the “benefits” of the lockdown, the pandemic showed us a glimpse of what life in a more environmental conscious world would look like. However, the fact that it took a pandemic for us to experience what living in a world with reduced carbon emission is, isn’t sustainable. Sustainability will emerge when individuals start adopting greener lifestyles. Our experience from the pandemic should serve as a catalyst for change and more sustainable actions by all stakeholders; governments, companies and individuals.
As governments continue to plan and deploy financial resources for economic recovery, they should seek to invest in greener technologies and renewable energy infrastructure. Investments in greener assets such as trees are a win-win for the environment and the economy. Consider this: with continuous deforestation, trees become fewer resulting in excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which leads to increased acid rain and more respiratory illnesses. An increase in health-related problems results in more money being spent on medications leading to a lower discretionary income and savings. A lower discretionary income and savings indicates an increase in poverty which ultimately has a negative effect on a nations GDP. This an example of a multiplier effect. Furthermore, for wildlife protection, partnerships with rural communities to improve food security, agricultural techniques and livestock management should be considered as this will serve as a shock absorber for rural residents during economic shocks like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, in the fight to improve economic measures, it is imperative to consider the ripple effects of investment in environmentally sustainable measures. Understanding this dynamic will beget a cleaner environment and more financially stable economy post COVID-19.
For companies, it is important they do not revert to business-as-usual mode. Rather, new work practices and culture should be cultivated and digitization should be embraced. In place of travelling, videoconferencing should be encouraged. Sales and marketing should be digitized too.
And for everyone – individuals, the government and companies, it is our responsibility to continue to raise awareness of the different environmental issues and reduce the demand we place on our environment by embracing sustainable habits such as working from home, shopping sustainably, upcycling, recycling, wildlife conservation and tree planting. By so doing, we will be able to build a resilient and eco-friendly economy post-COVID-19.