Whether it may be clean air in Delhi, fresh water of the Yamuna river, or a magnificent view of the Dhauladhar range from Jalandhar city, what is pertinent to note that our environment has got immense relief after the imposition of lockdown.
In a quick response to contain the further spread of the Covid-19 virus, the Government of India had imposed lockdown initially from 23rd March 2020 till 14th April 2020 that has now been extended for a second time. The government has asked its citizens to practice social distancing and stay at home during this period.
This measure aims to avoid all public gatherings and restrict unnecessary human movements throughout the country. While the lockdown was intended to tackle Covid-19, it has additionally given the right signals for our environment. As per the World Air Quality Report 2019, India is one of the highly polluted countries in the world. After the government implemented the nation-wide lockdown, various cities in India witnessed significant reduction in their pollution levels.
In New Delhi, the levels of PM 2.5 particles reduced from 91 micrograms per cubic meter to 26 micrograms per cubic meter within a week of declaring lockdown. A similar trend has been witnessed across all major cities in India. Average nitrogen dioxide levels have also gone down during this period by 40-50 per cent. The country has also seen a significant decrease in the emission of greenhouses gases with the minimal burning of fossil fuels.
Also, it is claimed that 40 per cent of pollution has been reduced in the Ganga river due to less release of industrial wastes in the waters. These positive impacts on the environment are not only limited to India but can be experienced in other parts of the world. Major cities like London, Paris, Madrid, and Milan have also imposed lockdown in their efforts to fight this pandemic.
Consequently, the average levels of nitrogen dioxide in air were reduced in this period. The quality of water in canals was found to have improved. Further, instances of wildlife coming out on streets were also reported from various cities. Unfortunately, this environmental transformation is available only for a short period. Once governments lifts lockdowns, things will return to their routine.
The environment will be again pumped up with all pollutants and toxic substances. The lockdown measure was undertaken for the protection of the citizen from the Covid-19 virus. It was not taken for the reduction of pollution levels from the environment. Subsequently, the improved health of the ecosystem turned out to be a positive consequence of lockdown. It was merely an add-on benefit that was achieved at the cost of development.
Therefore, such environmental cleanliness will not last for long since it was unintended and unplanned. Despite a short span of a clean environment, the lockdown has highlighted a few significant lessons for future environmental actions. Firstly, humans have the potential to help implement complicated policies at a crucial hour. They can collectively achieve any target with cooperation and compassion.
A similar approach is found in the 2015 Paris Agreement, where state parties are required to prepare ambitious road maps for their climate actions voluntarily. Strong actions require strong determination and a positive attitude. In this lockdown, citizens have proved their capability to address such problems collectively in the future. Secondly, environmental ethics have always remained a part of Indian traditions.
We respect and worship natural entities, for example, sun, trees, rivers, and wildlife, for ages. In the past, our lifestyle had been more closely associated and dependent upon the environment. Unfortunately, our practices have changed with time. It is disheartening that humans and the environment are not living in harmony with each other. Today, one has to suffer for the other to flourish. Notably, environmental problems are mostly associated with our lifestyle.
They come to us as a repercussion of our daily abusive habits towards the environment. Thus, there is an urgent need to change lifestyles and keep them in consonance with nature. Thirdly, the lockdown might be good for the environment but certainly not for humans. It cost their right to development. It is to be understood that environmental good cannot be secured by merely compromising development.
Progress is essential and also has a decisive role to play for humans. If both are not adequately balanced, long-term stability cannot be secured in society. Thus, innovative ways should be discovered to balance environment and development. We should emphasize more on renewable sources of energy to realize our future needs. Further, we should adhere to the application of circular economy principles.
Our environmental protection policies should be aimed to boost our economic and social development. Fourthly, Governments should firmly commit to address environmental concerns and channelize their energy to enforce environmental laws strictly. The level of preparedness and actions being taken against the pandemic has reflected the competence of the government. At the global level, States and International Organizations are coming forward to facilitate and assist each other in their fight against Covid-19.
This cooperation and commitment of today are a guiding factor to assert that even environmental concerns can be tackled with similar attentiveness. Fifthly, the lockdown has provided us a rough idea of the positive impacts on the environment when extensive use of labour, transportation, and fossil fuels are halted. We have achieved significant results with a zero rupee investment.
This incident can be utilized as a reference point to carry studies and chalk out cost effective action plans for future environmental goals. There have been many inventions in the past where the inventor accidentally came out with an unintended and unexpected result. Similar is the case with lockdown measures in the world.
While fighting against Covid- 19, the lockdown has provided many significant lessons for environmental protection. It has produced a possibility that the environment can be restored with genuine efforts. We must utilize this period to understand the positive impacts on the environment and reflect on them.
(The writer is a research scholar at the South Asian University, New Delhi)