Pandemic And Environment : A Hiatus In The Economic Activity Buys us Time To Recalibrate Our Growth Path, Where We Factor In The Environment Element To Create A Sustainable Future.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has left the world in disarray. It has transformed the social landscape of the entire world. In the wake of this pandemic, India too has to face unfamiliar challenges. It has distressed the healthcare sector, which was caught unprepared to tackle thousands of Coronavirus cases. The lockdown has put a stop to most economic activity and has thus, posed a threat to the economy.
However, amidst the chaos that pandemic has brought, the silver lining is environmental rejuvenation. Covid-19 has forcefully decreased human activity around the world and thus, reduced the carbon footprint of human beings. Carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, which are released as a result of human activities. For instance, China saw an 18% drop in its carbon emissions between February and March. Even in Europe, the pandemic has caused carbon emissions to fall by nearly 400 million metric tonnes this year. Since the carbon footprint has reduced, there is a visible improvement in the environment. Pictures and videos of clean beaches and tidy parks have flooded social media. The air quality levels of China and India have shown improvement. The waters in Venice's canals were left undisturbed for so long that fishes were visible once again. Endangered turtles and Dolphins have reappeared in India.
However, these incidents do not warrant a celebration yet. Various agencies, including the United Nations Environment Programme, have reported that such changes are temporary. According to a Greenpeace report, China emitted 25 per cent less carbon in the four weeks it was locked down due to Coronavirus. However, the country's efforts to get their economy back on track will likely nullify the same. This will be the probable trend for most other nations too. Recessions are known to be accompanied by reduced pollution levels globally. It is the method by which countries rebound, which is a matter of concern. How all affected countries decide to deal with their economic slowdowns can prove to be crucial for the environment.
Therefore, moving forward, we have the responsibility to rebuild our economy in a way that benefits our environment. The hiatus in economic activities due to Covid-19 has afforded a unique opportunity for us to review our present situation. Instead of going back to business as usual, we have a rare opportunity to create a better economic model that focuses on sustainable development. This is the kind of development that is environmentally conscious and utilizes resources in a way that does not jeopardize the availability for their future use. Moving forward, companies can strategize and realign their business models to support global Climate Change goals and improve the condition of the environment.
STRATEGIES TO BUILD A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
The continued exploitation of the environment by human beings has caused an unprecedented environmental crisis. Environmentalists have found it difficult to create meaningful change because the existing institutions refuse to compromise in fear of facing economic loss. Very few establishments take the conscious effort to be more environment-friendly. Since, the main reasons for this is the fear of disrupting their activities, the interruption of economic activities caused by the pandemic may have come as a blessing in disguise. Human beings can now re-evaluate and advance in a way that does not threaten our environment.
Leaders of the European Union have stated that the world requires an 'intelligent recover' post-pandemic and that its green ambitions should be the focus of the future. The EU has begun consultations on how it can reach its carbon reduction goals as early as 2030. Therefore, India too must take steps towards a sustainable economic system.
Investing in and Incentivising Sustainability
With economic activities coming to a stop and many companies facing the financial crunch, the government will have to redirect its funds and help companies attract investors. The government now has the option to decide where to invest. Hence, governments and investors should invest in sustainable infrastructure. Historically, investing in environmentally friendly activities has proved to be beneficial to both the environment as well as the economy. For instance, after the 2008-2009 financial crises, South Korea directed almost 70% of its investment towards green measures. Studies showed that its economy still recuperated at a faster pace than other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). At the same time, USA also invested in clean energy and public transport, which led to an increase in job opportunities.
Taking inspiration from these countries, India too can take the step to invest in infrastructure, which would be better for the environment. Despite having a booming population, the public transportation systems in India have little to no improvement. We could take this opportunity to invest in our public transportation system. This will have multiple benefits such as less use of fossil fuels, reduction in carbon dioxide released from vehicles, reduced traffic congestion on roads, etc.
Increased investment in clean and renewable energy is also important. India has a huge potential to tap into solar energy and use it even in remote towns and villages. The government has taken steps to encourage manufacturing of Solar panels and cells domestically. Therefore, if manufacturers in India are further incentivized to increase the production of Solar Energy equipment, it would benefit the economy of the country and the environment.
Furthermore, we mustn't go back to the carbon-intensive energy sources or get attracted by historically low oil prices. We must not aim for short term gain but, instead focus on renewable energy which is a more viable source of energy in the long term.
Thus, the government must creatively incentivize domestic companies to create sustainable infrastructure. It can also use incentive-based systems to increase investment in sustainable technology and businesses. Hence, such incentives will prove to be beneficial in the future.
Changing the way businesses are run
Prior to the lockdown, no company would have allowed its employees to work from their homes. However, the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic forced major changes in the way businesses are run. Nevertheless, it also reminded us of the truly adaptable nature of human beings. We have managed to adjust according to the need of the time. With time we have succeeded in removing the technical and behavioral barriers related to working from home.
Further, many people can function to the same extent, even at their homes. Therefore, even post the lockdown companies must try to continue with these practices as far as viable. This could have a long-lasting impact on how companies are run in the future. Even after the lockdown is lifted companies should not demand its employees to go to the office. Alternatively, they can schedule certain days in a week to work from home. This will reduce the daily commute of employees and will also significantly trim down their carbon footprint.
Furthermore, companies can also use virtual alternatives instead of in-person meetings, and this could reduce air travel. The aviation sector remains one of the biggest polluters and contributors to emissions. Companies like PwC, one of the Big Four accountancy firms, reported, that business travel is their single biggest source of carbon emissions. Therefore, by reducing these business trips, they will save not only money but also lower carbon emissions.
Countries calling for domestic manufacturing
The Covid-19 pandemic has also had a severe effect on the global supply chains. The lack of trade has created various shortages ranging from equipment to raw material. In such a situation, domestic production should be encouraged. This would also align with the 'Make in India' policy of the Indian government. Domestic production is not only a great step at self-sufficiency, but it also reduces the emissions which are caused by freight shipping. This too, will prove to be a more sustainable practice.
Therefore, in addition to the institutional changes, businesses can make smaller changes that will have positive implications in saving the environment.
Inclusion of various stakeholders in the dialogue for sustainability
The leaders of a country agree to reduce its carbon emission or take steps to reduce environmental damage. However, the leaders alone cannot bring about significant change. Local administration plays a big role in this. The need of the hour is to bring about long-lasting change at the grass-root level. For that, local administration needs to create awareness about sustainable practices and also incentivize small businesses to adopt such practices.
Furthermore, it is also necessary to involve the various stakeholders of companies to implement the policies in their respective workplaces. Businesses are a major source of environmental deterioration; therefore, the owners and managers of these businesses must be included in the dialogue regarding the betterment of the environment. Businesses need to revaluate their social responsibility. In order to inculcate this sense of responsibility, it is important to include these business owners in the conversation regarding the environment. A true sense of change can only be brought about if owners of businesses truly work to improve their work models and sustainably evolve them. For instance, Francesco Starace, the CEO of Enel, one of the largest energy companies in the world, had his epiphany while working in the Middle East in the mid-1980s. He then changed his company's purpose to a more sustainable way due to his sense of sustainability ownership.
Consumers too, can play a role in shaping sustainable practices in businesses. If the customers show preference to environmentally conscious businesses or goods, they can indirectly force institutions to change. Consumers should also take proactive steps in supporting sustainable institutions.
The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused upheaval and turmoil. At the same time, it has also provided us with the opportunity to sit back and recalibrate, not just our actions but also the effect of these actions. In a way, it has acted as a reset button for the way humans conducted their activities. We must take this pandemic as a warning by nature to alter our behavioral and consumption patterns. However, we must also take this 'pandemic pause' as a blessing in disguise, as it made us realize the need to bring about immediate change. We must make long term changes sustainably. Electricity usage has reduced due to people working from home, Non-essential deliveries have also temporarily discontinued. We are learning new lessons by recycling old clothing into masks, reducing wastage of resources, and reuse the resources we have available. We now have a choice to imbibe these changes in our lives and continue a more sustainable growth this point forward.
We all wish for things to back to normal after the pandemic. However, we must not go back to the same lifestyle which was harming the environment. Instead, we need to create a better and more sustainable society. If we do not take due caution, we may soon have to deal with an environmental crisis. The crisis will also prove to be like the present pandemic, as humans will have no control over it, and it will cause widespread damage to multiple industries. However, unlike the COVID Pandemic, the environmental crisis may not have a cure at all.
- C.B. Bhattacharya, How the Covid-19 reset can help firms build a sustainable future, World Economic Forum, 15th May 2020 , available at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/the-covid-19-reset-sustainability/
- Richard Florizone, Three ways in which coronavirus is shaping sustainable development, International Institute for Sustainable Development, available at https://www.iisd.org/library/coronavirus-shaping-sustainable-development
- Steven Bullock, Stepping Up to A Sustainable Future, Post COVID-19, S&P Global Market Intelligence, 22nd April 2020, available at https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/blog/stepping-up-to-a-sustainable-future-post-covid-19
- Daniel C. Esty, Building a better planet: towards a sustainable post Covid- 19 Society, The business of Society, 27th May 2020, available at http://www.bos-cbscsr.dk/2020/05/27/building-a-better-planet-post-covid-19-society/
About the author :
Tuhina Sahai is a 5th Year Student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Tuhina is an amiable person who enjoys meeting people and making friends. An adventure-loving person but also enjoys her time indoors with books. She is also quite keen on planning tasks which she accomplishes by making her daily to-do list.