Sunday Article 03: Nature Is Healing.
During the first round of lockdown around April 2020, when countries around the world were facing huge negative impacts on health, society and economy, one of the good news is that we reduced pollution and were saving the nature.
What is the evidence to say so?
But quickly in December 2020, there were other reports saying that this claim is misleading or it is just a temporary reduction with a quick rebound. Pollution was still a major problem in 2020.
According to NASA, the pandemic led to an almost 20% drop globally in nitrogen dioxide concentrations. It is correlated with the reduction in tailpipe emissions as people stayed home. But that’s only part of the picture when it comes to air quality.
Right after each time the lockdown is ended, nitrogen dioxide levels quickly rose back.
While for the greenhouse gases emissions, we have seen the biggest year-on-year drop earlier this year. However, this temporary reduction represented only a blip in the build-up of climate-warming carbon dioxide, now at its highest level in 3 million years.
On the other hand, the lockdowns that were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic actually worsen the ocean plastic pollution problem.
In Thailand, about 6,300 tonnes of plastic waste are produced daily. In China, 60 millions of single-use food containers are used for food delivery every day. It is equivalent to 339 Mount Everest. In the US, 91% of plastics are not recyclable. By 2050, there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the oceans. Eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year.
This statistics is made before COVID-19.
But what has happened during the pandemic and lockdown?
There is a surge in the usage of plastics and causing even severe plastic pollution. As people stayed at home, the number of times when we ordered food delivery and shopped online increase. For example, Singapore households generated an extra 1334 tonnes of plastic waste just in a mere two months during the pandemic.
Other plastics include face masks, hand sanitiser containers and PPE which are necessities during this pandemic. COVID-19 triggered an estimated global use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves every month. We are actually creating 30% more waste in 2020 than in 2019.
Hence, we are all encouraged to wear reusable masks and sanitize with soaps to reduce plastic pollution. Experts believe that the environmental emphasis on plastic pollution will return to the limelight once the COVID-19 crisis is under control.
The United States formally entered the Paris Agreement in September 2016. The president of that time, President Obama committed the United States to contribute US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund.
However, the US then formally withdrew from the Paris Agreement on 4th November 2020, coincidentally on the day following the 2020 U.S. presidential election. This decision was made by Donald Trump.
The president-elect Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement, on his first day in office.
How much do you know about the Paris Agreement that makes the US kept changing its decision?
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015. The goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement works on a 5- year cycle, where each country will set their goals of greenhouse gases emission reduction.
So after 5 years, in 2020, how many countries have reached their goals of reduction?
Only 73 nations met Paris Agreement climate change goals. On top of that, the agreement is farther away from success as global warming is not only failed to reduce but also has already increased by 1 degree Celsius in 2020. Even if all emissions stopped tomorrow, the study found, the global temperatures will still end up 2.3 degree Celsius warmer than they were in the pre-industrial era.
The European Union committed to reducing emissions 55% below 1990 by 2030.
The United Kingdom set a target of reducing emissions 68% below 1990 by 2030 and said it would stop financing oil and gas projects.
China pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
Japan & Korea pledged net zero emissions by 2050.
Above all, more ambition is needed from the United States.
ThorntonJacqui. Covid-19: Millions of women and children at risk as visits to essential services plummet.BMJ 2020; 369 :m2171.
Analysis: Coronavirus temporarily reduced China’s CO2 emissions by a quarter. EMISSIONS. 19 February 2020. https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-has-temporarily-reduced-chinas-co2-emissions-by-a-quarter
CAROL KONYN. Another Side Effect of COVID-19: The Surge in Plastic Pollution. POLLUTION. JUL 6TH 2020. https://earth.org/covid-19-surge-in-plastic-pollution/
The Paris Agreement. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
This article is prepared by Seow Qi Ng.