Emission cuts during lockdown are not a silver lining, UN chief warns


GREENHOUSE gas emissions are down and air quality has gone up, as governments react to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the head of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, has cautioned against viewing this as a boon for the environment.

In an editorial for the UN News, Ms. Andersen calls instead for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.

“The global coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused unimaginable devastation and hardship, has brought our way of life to an almost complete halt.

“The outbreak will have profound and lasting economic and social consequences in every corner of the globe.

“In the face of such turmoil, as the Secretary-General has indicated, COVID-19 will require a response like none before – a ‘war-time’ plan in times of human crisis.

“And as we inch from a ‘war-time’ response to ‘building back better’, we need to take on board the environmental signals and what they mean for our future and well-being, because COVID-19 is by no means a ‘silver lining’ for the environment.

“Visible, positive impacts – whether through improved air quality or reduced greenhouse gas emissions – are but temporary, because they come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress.

“The pandemic will also result in an increase in the amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated.

“This is no one’s model of environmental response, least of all that of an environmentalist.

“And indeed, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has highlighted that fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10 per cent around the world, and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels.”