The Environmental Impact of COVID-19

  • 22nd April 2020

Right now, there are 4 billion people worldwide who are in some form of isolation or lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Airports are closed, factories are shut, and people are off the roads.

What effect if any has this had on the environment in such a short amount of time?

There has been a huge reduction of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter which are created by motor fuel and other combustion processes like factories due to the plummet in industry and the use of motor transport. The European Space Agency (ESA) has uploaded a video to demonstrate the change in the presence of NO2 and particulate matter over China in over the past few months. It is astounding to see the impact that closing factories and putting a halt to non-essential travel has over the course of just a couple of months.

As well as seeing a drastic decrease in air pollution throughout the global lockdown there has also been some incredible cases of water pollution clearing up. One of the most noteworthy cases has been seen in the canals of Venice, Italy.  Normally host to a fleet of cruise ships, tourists and commercial shipping containers Venice’s canals are normally brown due to the motorised vehicles churning up dirt and debris from the canal floor and rubbish can be seen floating around. Now with few people and motor vehicles in sight the canals have settled leaving for rubbish free crystal-clear blue water ways, that have seen the return of fish, ducks and swans.

Another unexpected sighting is seeing the re-emergence of wildlife to towns. You may have seen on the news the appearance of mountain goats in Llandudno in North Wales. A herd of Kashmiri goats who usually spend their time on Great Orme were seen trotting around the town and having light snacks on people’s gardens. It is assumed that they have made their way down into town due to the lack of traffic that ordinarily would keep them within the parameters of the country park. And it’s not just Wales where the animals have come to town. A group of deer has made its way to east London. They have been spotted enjoying the grass on local greens and people’s front gardens.

By no means is this the solution to all our environmental problems as industry and travel will continue to kick-start again over the next few months. It does show the impact that can be had over a small amount of time.

While these environmental benefits of COVID-19 don’t negate the effects that this disease has had on the population and on people’s health, it is important to look to the positives in troubling times like these, and how quickly it would appear we can make drastic environmental changes.