It was only 11 months to go to the COP26 conference when COVID-19 “sneaked” into Wuhan in China, and our lives. Along with Italy, the UK was preparing to hold the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2020 in November in Glasgow, Scotland but, due to COVID-19 pandemic, it is now postponed indefinitely. COVID-19 and climate change –are they linked, and if so, how?

We have identified five possible links between COVID-19 and climate change (COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus and the terms are used interchangeably here).

Coronavirus and climate change are linked to the natural environment

Climate change can be described as a range of natural phenomena such as air temperature, warming oceans, sea ice and extreme weather events. Human elements such as mass migration will come as a result of climatic variations.

Coronavirus infests many animals but COVID-19 is a coronavirus that is found in bats. Then, pangolins act as an intermediary before it infects to humans. Many of the infectious diseases, including SARS and HIV, which were transmitted by animals to humans, came out of the natural environment. According to The Guardian the degradation of the natural world, the exploitation of the natural environment, as well as the manipulation of species is the cause of this pandemic and the humans hold the responsibility.

Coronavirus and climate change affect everybody

Climate change causes extreme weather events. In the past, many events such as flooding (e.g. Bangladesh and Indonesia) and droughts (e.g. Algeria and Chile) happened in the developing world. In the last two years, events such as flooding (e.g. UK) and wildfires (e.g. Australia and California in the US) occurred in the developed world too, which shows that climate change has no barriers.

In April this year, COVID-19 infected Prince Charles and PM Boris Johnson. They both survived. Many others, including celebrities, high profile individuals, along with doctors and nurses have unfortunately died as the Coronavirus has no barriers and shown no deference to celebrity or social status. The pandemic has impacted millions around the world; over 411,000 people have died due to complications from COVID-19.

Coronavirus and climate change test the health systems

In December 2019, the unusual situation sparked off in Wuhan in China and WHO, in February 2020, warned that this could be a global pandemic. Many leaders did not adequately listen to that message. Now, five months later, world leaders of the developed world, try to make things right. Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic tested the largest public health threat of the century, climate change and COVID-19 has tarnished even the most advanced health systems. According to Josh Karliner, the International Director of Program and Strategy for Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), we are living in a moment when two major global threats, a worldwide pandemic and the climate crisis, have suddenly converged: “Both are health emergencies, but of different kinds. With one, disease spreads like wildfire. And with the other, if you will, wildfires spread disease”.

Coronavirus can have positive climate effects

In China, the coronavirus outbreak made people stay home, their travel reduced and the heavy industries that they worked came to a standstill and this amounted to the reduction of emissions 25%. In Europe the emissions reduction was between 40 to 60%. In the UK, the road traffic reduced by 70%. In the US, 6,000 people were killed by cars in 2018 while 200,000 died from air pollution annually. In April, Carbon Brief estimated that the fall of global emissions with respect to 2019 is 5.5%. Lack of travel across the world created climate-friendly conditions and even led climate activists to propose imposing similar solutions upon returning to the “normal”. A free, interactive tool developed by HyperGiant, an artificial intelligence start-up, puts both global crises and their relationship to each other in perspective. But COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the climate crisis. It has merely allowed for a very small pause in the rapidly expanding emissions problem.

Climate change may cause pandemics like coronavirus

It is clear that climate change did not cause the coronavirus pandemic but, in future, it may set the conditions for similar situations.

Extreme weather events such as heat waves and wildfires cause severe impacts. For example, air pollution is the cause of 1 in 8 deaths. There is no doubt that human actions have a direct effect on health. According to Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a paediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and interim director of Harvard’s C-CHANGE Institute at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “If we’re still deforesting the world as we are and we’re still having huge amounts of trade in wildlife that may be carriers of diseases for people, you could still wind up with big problems.”

Fears and hopes

We would like to guide you to take action and implement strategies to tackle Climate Change and the socioeconomic impacts of this pandemic. COVID-19 has radically changed every aspect of our lives and every sector of businesses – from remote working and grounded flights to diminished movement and shuttered factories. In the words of Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, “Aside from the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest, most destructive exponential growth processes that we must grapple with today are those associated with global climate change”. We would like to guide you to the Harvard C-CHANGE School of Public health for an in-depth conversation on the topic of Coronavirus, Climate Change, and the Environment. Feel free to reach out to us on how to communicate your response to COVID-19 in your Sustainability Report or how to include your COVID-19 actions in your Sustainability Strategy and action plan.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

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