Green economic recovery plan is keyWritten by Shahino Mah
Aside from threatening public health, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the economic and transportation sectors due to stringent containment measures to flatten the infection curve.
This has led to the reduction of water and air pollution, which benefit the environment. Because transportation and industrial activities have been dramatically reduced, levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane have seen significant reductions and are at its lowest rates since World War 2.
In just a few weeks of lockdown, the air quality in many main cities showed significant improvement, and many natural environmental zones were seen slowly recovering.
For some, it seems that the climate crisis is hitting a pause. At a glance, nature, including wildlife, is enjoying a recovery period.
However, this phase might not last very long. While there are reductions in air and water pollution, plastic pollution is reportedly increasing due to the littering of disposable masks and gloves, especially in cities.
It seems that the awareness to wear masks is not accompanied with the awareness to dispose them properly. Experts have advised that masks should be folded and sealed in a plastic bag if a trash bin is not around.
Used masks are also found in rivers, the ocean and on beaches. Marine animals are at risk of severe injuries or death from these items. Since most disposable protective gears are made from polypropylene, it will disintegrate quickly into microplastics in water and make it almost impossible to remove.
These tiny microplastics will be an indirect diet of marine life and eventually enter the human body through seafood consumption.
Microplastics disrupt iron absorption, stresses the liver and are harmful to the human digestion system in the long term.
Overall, the global lockdowns have a negligible effect on the climate crisis according to studies.
Based on the International Energy Agency report, the projection of 2020 global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 47 billion tonnes of carbon, almost eight per cent less than the amount last year.
This amount of reduction in emissions cost more than a million deaths, while tens of millions are out of work, showing how difficult and costly it is to reduce emissions despite major changes in human behaviour.
At the same time, a rebound effect is expected to occur as early as several months after lockdown orders are lifted.
This prediction was made based on the previous Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009 where the global CO2 emissions quickly rebounded in 2010 following large investments by many countries to promote rapid economic recovery.
The post-lockdown period will witness many factories pushing to make up for the lost time, accompanied by an increase of approved permits to construct new coal-fired power plants that last for years and therefore, see the increase of GHG emission. The public will also contribute by using their private vehicles.
Unfortunately, most conventional economic activities are achieved at the expense of the environment. Therefore, a green economic recovery strategy is necessary to conserve the environment while rebuilding the economy post-pandemic.
We must not take the environment for granted. In this sense, it is apt that we pay heed to a reminder from the Quran: "And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters" (Quran 28:77).
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 6 November 2020