The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions imposed to fight the spread of the disease have provided some short-term positive impacts on Europe’s environment, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing published this week. These include temporary improvements in air quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower levels of noise pollution. However, the assessment also stresses that there have been negative consequences such as increased use of single-use plastics, and that ways out of the pandemic should focus on reshaping our unsustainable production and consumption systems to achieve long-term environmental benefits.
COVID-19 measures have mixed impacts on the environment
According to the EEA Briefing ‘COVID-19 and Europe’s environment: impacts of a global pandemic’, the Coronavirus crisis further highlights the urgent need to address the environmental challenges Europe faces. This will benefit not only the environment, but also our society’s health and well-being. The briefing, compiled from initial research by external and EEA experts, gives a preliminary view of what the Coronavirus pandemic, and resulting government measures to fight it, have meant both for our environment directly, and for EU efforts to shift to a low-carbon future. It considers what we can learn from these effects, and how they might help shape decision-making in the future.
Key findings of the briefing reflect ongoing work to incorporate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic into the different areas of EEA work on the environment and European environmental policy. These topics have also been discussed in a series of high-level online debates on COVID-19 and the environment organised by the EEA.
- The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the interrelations between our natural and societal systems: societal resilience depends on a resilient environmental support system.
- Biodiversity loss and intensive food systems make zoonotic diseases more likely.
- Often related to social inequalities, environmental factors such as air quality appear to influence COVID-19 outcomes.
- Increased reliance on single-use plastics and low oil prices resulting from lockdowns have negative consequences.
- Lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic may have some direct, short-term, positive impacts on our environment, especially in terms of emissions and air quality, although these are likely to be temporary.