MAY 2020  
Special Feature
Redefining Sustainability in the Era of COVID-19: Time to Ponder and Act Accordingly

It is quite rare yet remarkable that a pandemic such as coronavirus outbreak could prove to be a social reforming measure. The lockdown has come as a blessing in disguise for our environment as the skies are clearer and air seems fresh once again. The evidence of decreasing pollution can be seen at night also. One can see a much clear sky that speaks volumes about the current situation. Many global cities are reporting improved air quality for several days together. This has been made possible by a complete shutdown of the human activities and other related actions. But, can it be considered as a permanent phenomenon? The answer is ‘No’. Recent research by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (April 2020) called it a ‘short-term measure’ to contain air pollution. Ironically, the ‘problem of many’ is proving to be a sustainable solution to the planet Earth. Surprisingly, as per the recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, severe air quality index could have greater fatalities in comparison to any virus outbreak such as coronavirus.

Due to the current lockdown, our national capital city Delhi has witnessed 80-90 per cent reduction in the particulate matter (PM)2.5 exposition from 503.94 (maximum) in December 2019 to a record low to 37.04 (maximum) in April 2020 (Table 1).

Table 1: Delhi Air Quality Index (AQI) statistics

Source: Extracted from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Thursday, April 09, 2020

According to the study, COVID-19 patients in areas that have had a record of high degrees of air pollutants are much more likely to succumb to the contamination than those in states with relatively better air quality. Unfortunately, those who are predisposed to bad air quality remains even more vulnerable to catch COVID-19 infection. The principal reason behind the same is that PM2.5 are fine particles that have the potential of penetrating deeper into the bodies of people suffering from cardiac disorder, hypertension, breathing problems, and diabetes, which might pose severe complications for virus-infected ones. Not just this, these particles could further impact the immune system overall and respiratory tract as well. As per a study by Harvard University, ‘an increase of only 1 µg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with approximately 15 per cent increase in the COVID-19 death rate’.

As per global statistics, India has some of the most polluted cities in the world, however, the scenario seems to see a reversal in its usual trends since the air has been way too clean in recent weeks due to the nationwide lockdown imposed due to the pandemic. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) experts have detected that even a single-day lockdown has caused the average nitrogen pollution level to drop down to the lowest, especially in urban areas of the country during the spring season. Other Indian cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru too have witnessed a huge drop in the overall air contamination. The green impact is not limited to just air contaminations rather water correlates (such as oceans, rivers, lakes, coasts, and so on) too have recorded pertinent improvements in the form of a reduction in toxic industrial wastes. Before we reach any sort of concrete solution to tackle the twin-edged sword problem to deal with climate change on one hand and virus on the other, it is essential to answer some of the trailing fundamental questions.

Does the outbreak of any virus such as corona carry the potential of changing the entire dynamics of global climate change?

One of the studies indicates that every second, 310 kg of toxic chemicals are released into air, land, and water by industrial facilities around the world. This is equivalent to approximately 10 million tonnes (over 21 billion pounds) of toxic chemicals (substances that can cause severe illness, poisoning, birth defects, disease, or death when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by living organisms) released into the environment by industries each year. Astonishingly, standalone air pollution possesses the capacity to kill an estimated 7 million people globally annually. It seems that together different sectors due to lockdown such as transport, industries and businesses have contributed their respective share to witness a worldwide drop in the overall emissions. As per the studies conducted in 2018 by Zurich (Switzerland) and Kyoto (Japan) universities, under such conditional restrictions, people tend to shift perpetually to sustainable lifestyles (like working from home, and so on) if kept for a longer period of time. Unexpectedly, all major nations have registered a gigantic plunge in the air pollution levels in comparison to the levels at the beginning of the year 2020. For example, the USA is able to curtail the pollution level by 50 per cent, China by 25 per cent, and many such countries including Spain, Italy, and so on with the overall expected drop of 0.3 per cent in the global emissions in the current calendar year. The WHO statistics depict that 9 out of every 10 people tend to breathe air containing high levels of air impurities. Fortunately, reasonable efforts by the WHO in the same direction to contain and improve the air quality
are taken in mutual collaboration with many nations. 

Climate has remained the top policy agenda till February 2020, but will the scenario continue?

Climate as a key ‘policy agenda’ is worth exploring even now because air pollution is even a bigger threat to humankind and therefore, poses a gigantic environmental risk. By reducing air pollution levels, nations can diminish the burden of diseases from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and both chronic and acute respiratory disorders (including asthma). Lower the levels of air pollution, the better the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population, both in the long run and short run. In 2016, 91 per cent of the world population was living in places, where the WHO air quality minimum standards were not met. The pollution level has decreased significantly after lockdown (due to coronavirus outbreak) as most of the factories and the manufacturing sectors halted their respective air-polluting activities that further led to decrease in noise pollution and even the water pollution (due to the industrial solid and gaseous waste disposal into rivers and water bodies). A decrease in the use of vehicles and closure of many construction sites has led to a substantial amount of decrease in the pollution levels all around the world.

Indeed, the human race owes this much in return to the planet Earth due to deliberate polluting. And of course, the citizens now can’t shy away from the problems that they are facing due to global pollution. Policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient homes, power generation, industry, and better municipal waste management would reduce the major originators of outdoor air pollution. Amidst dark, a ray of hope that entire nation is experiencing is quite commendable—a contemporary new style of working for many, that is, work from home, just announced after the nationwide lockdown by all corporates and major offices (people have set-up their offices at home) that is responsible to lower down the traffic, fuel, and energy consumption in commercial buildings. The major drop in traffic has a lot to do with the cleaner air that we have been breathing. The last resort to solve and preserve it for the present and future is to rethink our behaviour at each level.

Since we are experiencing after-effects of historical pollution driven activities by nations today; similarly we shall realize the temporary cleaner air impact in the near future after the pandemic. If human ignorance and casual attitude to treat the environment and its correlates continue, such virus outbreaks will rather teach us the ill-effects the harsh way. Such unfortunate virus outbreaks would force humans to lower the pollution and safeguard the environment by quarantine of half the population of the planet Earth, and force the other half of the population, to remain indoor by the lockdown imposed by the government.

We should also be concerned about the fact  that if corporates/businesses around the globe decide to have double shifts once the lockdown is over, the emissions could resume to their usual levels. We shall leave it to time to decide that whether COVID-19 shall be treated a ‘boon’ or ‘bane’ in the times of global concerns such as rising air pollution and the need to maintain sustainability. 

Megha Jain, Senior Research Scholar/Asst. Professor, FMS/DRC, University of Delhi, and Saurabh Jaiswal, anonymous writer/aspiring researcher, JIML.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in Indias CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
[email protected]