The COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced a later Earth Overshoot Day in 2020, but it’s still a reminder that we have work to do.
This year’s Earth Overshoot Day was reached on August 22, largely due to temporary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, whereas 2019 saw the event on July 19, almost a full month sooner.
The Earth Overshoot Day organization says that this event occurs when “humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.” It typically comes sooner each year as globalization and consumption trends increase and the last time Earth Overshoot Day occurred after August 22 was in 2005 on August 25.
Global Footprint Network says that 2020’s delayed event is unusual because Earth Overshoot Day typically occurs at a slightly later date each year. They also emphasize that this is not considered to be an achievement, because COVID-19 restrictions changed human behaviour as opposed to intentional environmental action.
Global Footprint Network determined Earth Overshoot Day by calculating the number of days that Earth’s biocapacity can provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint, which has three main categories: carbon emissions, forest harvest, food demand.
Compared to the same period last year (from January 1st to Earth Overshoot Day), researchers found that there was a 9.3 per cent reduction in 2020’s global Ecological Footprint. The carbon Footprint saw the biggest decline of 14.5 per cent while the forest products Footprint fell by 8.4 per cent and the food Footprint remained unchanged. The organization states that this category remained unchanged because the pandemic caused significant disruptions to the global food system and increased food waste and malnutrition among the lowest income populations.
SHORT-LIVED IMPACTS FROM TEMPORARILY LOW EMISSIONS
Global inactivity peaked in April 2020 as travel restrictions and working from home policies were implemented, which caused global greenhouse gas emissions to fall between 10 and 30 per cent, according to a study published by Nature. Even if the pandemic lasts through 2021, this study found that the decline in emissions will not have a lasting effect on climate change unless “green” policy measures were incorporated into national economic recovery packages.
“Economic investment choices for the recovery will strongly affect the warming trajectory by mid-century. Pursuing a green stimulus recovery out of the post-COVID-19 economic crisis can set the world on track for keeping the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement within sight,” the researchers state.
The study says that the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how “massive shifts in behaviour” will not be enough to solve the climate crisis. The researchers emphasize the need for new climate policy measures that will decarbonize economies and prevent global temperatures from exceeding 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
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