Covid-19 and Climate Change: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

Written by Trisha Benzon
Illustration by Eva Gonzales
Published 2020 December 7

With the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems as if the problem of climate change has been put in the back burner. Since most of 2020 was spent inside our houses, perhaps we’ve forgotten about the worsening outside world extending past Covid-19-related concerns. Though climate change has continuously been downplayed as a non-immediate threat, we are witnessing and experiencing its effects everyday such as raging wildfires, severe drought, warmer temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather [1]. The increased emissions of greenhouse gases has led to the rising of global temperatures, having catastrophic events in different parts of the world and will continue to do so until it is a problem that can no longer be handled. 

As 2020 comes to a close, we recall the major disasters that were directly or indirectly caused by climate change. From the end of 2019 we had the Amazon Wildfires, followed by the catastrophic Australian Wildfires which ravaged the beginning of 2020 – declared as the ‘worst wildlife disasters in modern history’ the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia [2]. That was not the end, for the California Wildfires took over at the end of 2020 as it has been the worst wildfire season in the state’s history [3]. These wildfires have cumulatively destroyed more than 50 million acres of land, which included the homes and livelihoods of the billions of humans and animals living there [2]. Alongside wildfires, global warming has also brought about droughts and infertility of land [4]. Areas in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia that already lack access to clean drinking water are now lacking access to water for irrigation and other use. And with the increase of temperature comes the infertility of land, leading to reduced harvests.

Following wildfires,  2020 was also drowned by the intense and frequent typhoons and hurricanes. Recently, the destructive Typhoon Ulysses hit the Philippines as a Category 4 typhoon that caused one of the worst floods in decades [5]. The 2020 monsoon season in China also had its devastating effects. These floods have led to the destruction of public infrastructure, including the homes and lives of the people living there.  

Our Earth is only becoming a more uninhabitable place as animals and plants have lost their ecosystems. As food and water supply are only becoming more scarce for all living beings, humans must be held accountable for the destruction of our planet. 

All these disasters are a result of a persistent build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases and are responsible for trapping heat within the atmosphere [6]. Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, an example includes driving a car, are one of the biggest contributing factors contributing to greenhouse gases. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, travelling and all types of manufacturing have decreased drastically since people have been forced to quarantine and self-isolate. According to a study, the quarantine  has reduced 2020’s daily emissions global emissions by an estimated -17% [7]. Unfortunately, the reduced emissions are only temporary. Once economies open back up, carbon emissions will return to normal. However, this significant decrease may be a new starting point. 2020 has seen the highest uptake of renewable energy projects [8]. So what does this mean and what can we expect for 2021 and later years?

There are no concrete predictions of disasters that will happen in the near future. However, since 2020 has been filled with the “worsts”, we can expect that the situation may only continue to worsen. As there is no reversing climate change, the best we can do to manage it is by slowing it down. In line with this, almost 200 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement, the first global plan to tackle climate change [9]. Countries part of the Agreement set a meeting every five years to calculate progress and strengthen commitments to reduce carbon production. The goal is to strengthen global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, limit increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Climate change is only recently being addressed and tackled on the corporate and international level. However  we, as human individuals, should also partake in the collaborative effort to reduce carbon emissions. The first step of addressing a problem is to acknowledge its existence. Though some may still think that climate change is a hoax, we have seen too many calamities to ignore. Countries all over the world experience climate change in different ways and its effects are only getting worse. Changes are being developed around the world to promote a sustainable future, we can only hope that we are not too late.

References

  1. Earth.Org. The Biggest Environmental Problems Of 2020: Earth.Org – Past: Present: Future.- Past | Present | Future [Internet]. [updated 2020 Sep 23; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://earth.org/the-biggest-environmental-problems-of-our-lifetime/ 
  2. Givetash L. NBCNews.com Australian wildfires declared among the ‘worst wildlife disasters in modern history’. [Internet]. [updated 2020 Jul 28; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/australian-wildfires-declared-among-worst-wildlife-disasters-modern-history-n1235071 
  3. Alonso M. CNN. California’s record-breaking wildfires consume nearly 1 million acres in a month. [Internet]. [Updated 2020 Oct 17; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/17/us/california-wildfires-saturday/index.html 
  4. NASA. Severe Drought in South America. [Internet]. [Updated n.d.; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147480/severe-drought-in-south-america 
  5. ReliefWeb. Philippines: Typhoon Vamco (Ulysses) Worst Flooding in Decades in the Cagayan Valley Region (As of 16 November 2020) – Philippines. [Internet]. [Updated 2020 November 16; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/philippines-typhoon-vamco-ulysses-worst-flooding-decades-cagayan-valley-region-16 
  6. EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency. Overview of Greenhouse Gases. [Updated n.d.; cited 2020 Dec 5] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
  7. Quéré CL, Jackson RB, Jones MW, Smith AJP, Abernethy S, Andrew RM, De-Gol AJ, Willis DR, Shan Y, Canadell JG, et al. Nature News. Temporary reduction in daily global CO 2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement. [Internet]. [Updated 2020 May 19; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x 
  8. WWF. 2020: A critical year for our future and for the climate. [Internet] [Updated 2020; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/2020-a-critical-year-for-our-future-and-for-the-climate 
  9. Unfccc.int. The Paris Agreement. [Internet]. [Updated n.d; cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement 

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