Clear skies are emerging where once pollution blanketed cities as satellite images reveal a dramatic fall in nitrogen dioxide levels across the world. Who would have thought that a pandemic would be so good for the environment. While COVID-19 wreaks havoc across the globe – shutting factories, emptying roads, filling hospitals – the enforced lockdowns also offer a glimpse of how a cleaner world could look.
The environment’s momentary reprieve will pass, as pressure builds on nations to get people back to work and industry moving. But it does offer a reminder of the need to lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to slow the warming of the planet, an issue high on many people’s minds not so long past. The pandemic is also a wake-up call on how some forces respect no boundaries and those countries that turn a blind eye can find themselves overwhelmed by the consequences.
The world’s response to COVID-19 does offer some hope but also some harsh realities in dealing with calamities on such a large scale. The enormous resources across the globe backing the development of a vaccine to quash the virus are turbocharging the potential time frame of a breakthrough. It offers a laudable template for a similar effort in the future to develop technology that would help wean the planet off fossil fuels. The potential benefit to the planet is no less than a COVID-19 vaccine.
On the flip side, US President Donald Trump’s America First mantra has rubbed off on political leaders during this pandemic, with many countries putting national interests well before global cooperation. The battle to secure critical supplies to combat the virus has too often been won by those with the most, and not the most in need. The squabbling over the World Health Organisation has been unseemly.