Since COVID-19 was declared by the World Health Organization as a global emergency and most of the world went into lockdown to stop the spread, there has been positive environmental impacts regarding a decrease on greenhouse gas emissions and improvements on air quality in many places. But these impacts are just temporary. Once the world picks up again, greenhouse gas emissions will go back up. That is without considering the incredibly large amount of medical and hazardous waste generated, and single-use plastic people are forced to use as sanitary measures tighten. Not only that, but governments are taking advantage of the chaos during this time to pass legislation against environmental efforts without people noticing.
The pandemic’s consequences will not be seen only in people’s health, countries’ healthcare systems, society and the economy, but also in the environment as the health crisis threatens global efforts to meet climate commitments. Many international meetings related to climate, like UN’s Annual Climate Summit, have already been postponed due to the pandemic.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal agency which mission is to “protect human health and environment”. Funny, because the agency is going the opposite direction by lowering environmental standards. The EPA said it “would not penalize companies that fail to comply with federal monitoring or reporting requirements” due to the pandemic. Weeks ago, the agency also lowered standards for car emissions; an effort that was crucial on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the U.S. is just one of several countries petitioning or already announcing the loosening of environmental standards and enforcement using the COVID-19 health crisis as an excuse.
Countries in the European Union are also starting to request delays on emissions-cutting deadlines. Poland wants to put off its carbon trading program and the Czech Republic is advising to abandon the EU’s landmark climate bill.
Other countries include Brazil and China. The federal environmental agency in Brazil announced that it is rolling back protections for the rainforest which include cutting back enforcement duties in the Amazon. China has already extended environmental standards deadlines for companies and has postponed several solar projects.
Lowering standards is not just a problem for the environment itself, it is also a human health concern. It is well known that air pollution caused by greenhouse gases have an effect on people’s health. The WHO estimates that 4.2 million deaths a year are a result of exposure to ambient air pollution. Relaxing environmental standards will not only increase pollution and reverse efforts to combat climate change but will also threaten human health. The same health that we are trying to protect right now.
Human Rights Watch, UN News, World Health Organization
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