The Environmental Impact of the Coronavirus

The Environmental Impact of the Coronavirus


Where we are now could have never been predicted. On the third Friday of January 2020, a silent war was forming. It would be a war that the World’s population has never experienced. No countries would be turning against one another, but instead, standing together to fight what is now a global pandemic.

Every hour of the day our news feeds and TVs are covering the Coronavirus. Statistics are rising faster than we can keep up with, and it can feel as if there is no end in sight. It is hard to allow anything else to consume our thoughts. But, whilst the citizens of the world are bravely fighting a disease, we must remember our planet is also still fighting to stay alive.

As the world comes to a standstill, industries are shutting down, cars are staying parked and airports are grinding to a halt; is the environment having a chance to recuperate?

Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are falling across the globe as entire countries are trying to contain the spread of the new disease. Britain’s Dawn Chorus is the loudest its been in years, Venice’s canals are crystal clear, citizens of Northern India are seeing a view of the Himalayas for the first time in their lives and China’s carbon emissions have fallen by 25% - the list goes on.

Not only this but wildlife is returning home. Sealife is back in the waterways of Italy, Orcas have been spotted off Vancouver’s North Shore, Wild Pumas found in the centre of Santiago, Goats on the streets of Wales and Basking Sharks have been seen off the coast of Cornwall for the first time in over 10 years. Some say nature is taking back what is rightfully theirs, but whether these miraculous impacts will be some of the long-lasting steps towards the solution we need is a different question.


In a world shaped by pandemic, climate change has started to become a remote threat. Climate talks have been delayed and new policies set to come in this summer are postponed. COP26 had been pushed back until November and even that can’t be certain. It is completely understandable that World Leaders have their attention on only one crisis right now but even after we recover from the virus, the following economic crisis will take centre stage.

We have seen this before. During the 2008-2009 financial crash global emissions dipped by 1.3%. This was, however, succeeded by an all-time high in greenhouse emissions as the economy recovered in 2010. So when the pandemic eventually subsides will pollutants bounce back just as they did 10 years ago?

China’s pollution levels are already on the rise again as their lockdown eases. Their coal consumption is already back in line with pre Coronavirus levels and the Financial Times reported that “initial signs from Beijing suggest it is ramping up heavy industry” as the country comes into recovery. The number of coal-fired power plants approved in March has been more than the number given the go-ahead in the whole of 2019.

It is thought that there is a better chance of Europe and the US keeping carbon transition low. However, while demand for oil and metal products have fallen more than other outputs, the record high stockpiles being created will allow for the rapid restoration of the Western world. As we are headed for a potential economic depression, for the first time it is essential that we find a way to out of it that is both green and more equitable.

Coronavirus is having further indirect effects on sustainability goals as it arrived just as the climate movement was reaching the height of its momentum. In 2019 major European countries had agreed to net zero-emission targets, Greta Thunberg became an everyday name and Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England at the time, demanded investment banks to recognise the impending climate crisis. Extinction Rebellion’s rise brought together the young and the old, the left and the right-wing, the privileged and those on the breadline, as it formed to be the fastest growing environmental organisation in the world. History was being made as the need to prevent the breakdown of the world as we know it became urgent. The pressing concern of saving lives has now rightfully taken precedence and the climate crisis is being pushed to the back of peoples’ minds, we just have to hope it won’t be forgotten.

The worldwide shutdown won’t stop climate change, although it will help, but it can change how we deal with it. If the pandemic has shown us anything about dealing with mass disasters its that when we need it communities can and will pull together to take action, Governments do have money available to spend and the world can work together to make change happen and fast. We have lost the fear of the state printing money, and we are no longer afraid of Governments temporality taking more control, so as Rachel Kyte, previously the UN’s top clean every official, said ‘we should not be afraid of them stepping in to avert the disaster of climate change’.

The role of the state has systematically changed during the Covid-19 era and this could present hope that they will be ready to fight another global crisis. But it’s the shift from intellectually engaging to emotionally engaging in the cause that is the key. The climate crisis has become a fight against the desensitisation and disassociation of humanity to our dying planet. We now know we can fight this but whether we will is the question.

Ultimately the entire impact of the virus on climate change will be determined by the stimulus put in place in the post-pandemic world. It will be determined by our everyday behaviour and whether the changes we made to our lives and values during lockdown can outlive the virus.

It is safe to say no one wanted emissions to be lowered this way. This virus has had horrific impacts on lives, health services, mental health and livelihoods across the globe. Amid this devastation, however, the lockdowns have given us hope on how a lower carbon economy could be achieved. We have learnt that the consequences of our collective actions can be huge and this narrative needs to carried forward to climate change. While the natural benefits, although extremely welcomed, are likely to be short-lived, what can stay is the teamwork and passion to make things right again shown by citizens all across the world. The proven difference communities can make when they pull together is a lesson that could be priceless in taking the big steps towards the greener future we desperately need.

By Freya Sproull

girl doing yoga on next to a blue hut



Hi, I’m Freya, a Cornish local who has grown up in and around the sea. Living on the coast my whole life, sustainability and loving the environment has always been a massive part of my lifestyle. I’ve surfed since I could walk and spend 90% of my summers barefoot in a bikini and in the water. Having always lived in a tiny village I’m lucky to have had the opportunities to get out and travel and surf in all the corners of the world. This something I’m so grateful for and has only increased my love for the planet and shown me the importance of keeping it in shape for future generations to enjoy as much as I have so far. In between my University studies I teach surfing and yoga on the beach and pride myself in turning into a beach bum for 5 months of the year. When I’m not in my wetsuit or on my yoga mat I love to discover new cafes and brunch spots with my fellow mermaids and drink all the coffee that I can handle. So far my life has been full of sand, waves and tan lines; just the way I like it.

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