Making Lemonade Out of Lemons: Climate and Clean Air Action During a Pandemic


The pandemic has created a weird test case of what might happen if humanity really reduced its fossil fuel-related emissions.

As global emissions have decreased, the skies have cleared. Before and after photos of major city skylines have shown how much emissions contribute to global air pollution, even without looking at the actual data.

According to The Washington Post, global emissions dropped 17 percent by early April, once quarantine mandates went into effect. But these emissions can rise just as quickly.

Here is the good news: some political leaders are feeling a genuine call to action in order to make some of these changes permanent. We’d like to summarize some of these actions.


Paris: Cyclists On the Rise

Paris has long been considered one of the global leaders in the fight for clean air.

Since the pandemic broke out, Paris has seen an uptick in bikers choosing this alternative form of transportation. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has set up stations around the city for pumping tires and basic cycling needs.

Additionally, just months before the pandemic brought the world to a halt, Mayor Hidalgo launched one of the densest air quality monitoring networks in Europe in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

As the French capital slowly reopens, Paris is showing the world how a major city can find ways to move toward a cleaner and healthier future while recovering from a pandemic.


European Union: Using Stimulus Dollars To Create Change

The European Union recently released its coronavirus recovery plan that will address climate change in a major way. The “Next Generation E.U.” plan calls for more investment in clean technologies. The €750 billion plan aims to bring the E.U. to carbon neutral by 2050. 

This is a major step for the European Union as it recovers from the pandemic. Looking ahead, environmental investment is vital as the world heals from COVID-19. We can no longer be bystanders to an aggravating problem.

California: Clean Energy Plan for Trucks

In June, California issued a mandate on truck manufacturers to sell zero-emission vehicles by 2024.

This is the strictest regulation on trucks regarding clean air in the nation. California aims to sell 300,000 zero-emission trucks by 2035 and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. 

Transportation is the largest contributor to GHG emissions in the United States. So, strides toward zero emissions in the transportation sector represent monumental change toward fighting climate change. And it's a change we can see.

India: Affirming Commitment to Sustainability During Pandemic

India has reiterated its commitment to sustainability, despite economic challenges caused by COVID-19. The Finance Commission announced that the previously allocated budget remains focused on bringing clean air to urban areas with an emphasis on “the need for consistent and reliable data on [air quality]”.

This is a powerful move on the Commission’s part, given recent studies on the links between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 transmission. 

India has some of the poorest air quality in the world, and over 500,000 deaths per year are attributed to pollution. The country of 1.3 billion committing itself to sustainability during the pandemic will likely show progress in health and environment in the long run. 


Private Sector: Microsoft Announces Coalition for Net Zero Future

On July 20, Microsoft announced Transform to Net Zero, an initiative with eight other companies to work toward a net zero future. The initiative aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and the nine companies will turn to science as their guiding light. 

It’s no surprise that this announcement comes at the height of the pandemic resurgence in the United States, as air pollution and climate change continue to get plugged into conversations around health.

COVID-19 is hitting businesses hard. If businesses want to survive and thrive in the decades to come, they must invest in the people, the planet, and our shared health. 


But On The Other Hand: EPA Rollback on Air Quality Monitoring

Even though pollution has seemingly dropped, air quality monitoring is as necessary as ever. 

In March, the EPA announced that it would not take legal action against organizations that don’t track emissions due to coronavirus. The result of this rollback is that polluters are taking advantage of the lack of monitoring. Consequently, there is an increase in emissions that contribute to COVID-19 transmission.

The communities most affected by these rollbacks are low-income communities of color. In terms of air quality and COVID-19, extensive attention to these communities is essential for our country moving forward, both for clean air and racial equality.

In May, nine states sued the EPA for suspending pollution monitoring during the pandemic. 


Bottom Line: Seize The Moment!

We can now blatantly see the effects of human activity on the environment. The call for global action against climate change and COVID-19 rings louder than ever. They are interconnected health threats that must be tackled together.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the world financially and spiritually, this period could be a major turning point in the fight against climate change.

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