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Can we create a more sustainable world after the coronavirus?

Can we create a more sustainable world after the coronavirus?

How can we create a more sustainable and resilient world after the coronavirus crisis? We are living through a critical period in which important recovery decisions will be made that will shape our future. In this context, the European Environment Agency will bring together knowledge related to coronavirus and the environment and contribute to an informed debate.

Deaths associated with the virus worldwide have sadly already passed the 400,000 mark and the number continues to rise, at different rates depending on geographic region. The costs and risks related to COVID-19 are real and require action and solidarity on a global scale.

To stop the spread of the virus, many countries - including almost all EU Member States - applied strict containment measures. Some have managed to lower infection rates and have begun de-escalation cautiously. After the first months focused on health impacts and urgent solutions, it has become clear that economic repercussions of the pandemic are huge and will be noticed for years. Governments are channeling public spending towards mitigating the worst effects and boosting the economy. Will these funds be used to return to the world as we knew it before the pandemic or rather to build a sustainable and equitable world?

Europe's recovery plan confirms the path to sustainability

Europe has made its decision clear: to bet on a green, digital and resilient Europe. In the European Green Deal, the European Commission had already proposed atransition fair and inclusive towards long-term sustainability, placing environmental and climate issues at its center. In order to implement this vision, important packages of measures have been presented, such as the recent Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies.

Europe has made its decision clear: bet on a green, digital and resilient Europe

These priorities are clearly reflected in the proposed EU multi-annual budget amounting to € 1.1 trillion for the period 2021-2027. As part of arecovery plan Following this economic crisis, the European Commission has recently proposed a new additional financial instrument called 'Next Generation EU', to which it will allocate EUR 750 billion. Within the framework of well-defined political objectives, these funds can help transform the European economy and, in turn, achieve climate neutrality and sustainability and combat social inequalities.

Throughout the transition period, knowledge will play a critical role in ensuring that funds are allocated to actions consistent with this shared vision.

A greater volume of knowledge to support decisions during the transition

The international community will need years, if not decades, to verify and assess the full scope of this crisis, which ranges from demographic change and inequalities to resource use and trends in polluting emissions. However, there are already signs of how actions taken in the context of the pandemic could be affecting the environment, both in the short and long term.

One of the first quantifiable results of these measures has been the visible improvement of the air quality. With the decrease in road traffic, many European cities under lockdown saw a reduction in concentrations of some of the main air pollutants. To understand the extent of these improvements, the EEA has been monitoring weekly mean nitrogen dioxide concentrations; In some cities, concentrations decreased by more than 50% compared to the same week in 2019. Reductions in concentration can also be expected.noise pollution caused by road transport. However, as economic activity resumes, these improvements are likely to be reversed.

Lower economic activity is also likely to lead to a reduction in carbon emissions.greenhouse gases in 2020. By the end of 2021, we will have a full assessment based on hard data. As will happen with air quality, the drastic drop in emissions will give way to a rise in emissions as the economy recovers.

All over the world, cases of wild fauna and flora that have regained ground as there has been less disturbance from human activities, as well as an increase insingle use plastics that end up abandoned in nature. European and global researchers and public authorities are developing initiatives to identify and validate these trends.

To ensure that we continue to move towards a climate-neutral and sustainable continent and planet, we will share the growing body of knowledge available to the EEA and its partners, and facilitate an informed discussion on the web portal:Post-Corona Planet.

One planet, one community

We are going through a difficult period. Everything around us has changed at an unprecedented rate in a short space of time: social interactions, work life, education, vacations, employment opportunities, and digital connectivity. Also, the future is fraught with uncertainty. But in these difficult times, we must never forget the impressive strength, resilience and solidarity that we have demonstrated as individuals, as families, and as part of the global community. Together we can act, innovate, adapt and move forward. And we have to do it in a sustainable way.

Hans bruyninckx

EEA Executive Director

Editorial published in the June 2020 issue of the EEA Bulletin 02/2020

Video: Will the Pandemic Guide the World to a More Sustainable Future? (October 2020).