June 29, 2020

Climate change and COVID-19: Key takeaways for land-use planning

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If the pandemic has any silver lining, it is that nature has reaped some benefits. However, it’s up to us to learn a long overdue lesson once and for all.

The parallel between COVID-19 and climate change are as obvious as they’re frightening; both point to a need for collective human endeavour. Simply put, for a paradigm shift to ensue in society, the community must take precedence over individual needs in creating a social safety net.

One of the most effective ways to ensure this is land-use planning and management. While the dipping CO2 levels may rebound once the world ‘reopens,’ a sustainable urban model can help build our resilience towards them.

In the following sections, I address two key issues. One—how to take the environmental benefits of the pandemic forward, and two—lessons in crisis management that COVID-19 has taught us in such an unforgiving manner.

So, let’s get to the facts.

Has COVID-19 slowed down climate change?

While that may be too high-flying a claim to make, the pandemic has certainly seen a significant drop in carbon emissions and improvements in global air quality. With half the population working from home and flights never leaving the ground, pollution has taken a backseat. However, what remains to be done is to ensure that things don’t go back to square one.

The reason for the marked difference in governments’ response to the two crises is time. Where
climate change takes decades, the virus takes weeks. Essentially, the quick and far-reaching impact of COVID-19 has been a clear indication of the importance of steady and planned changes on systemic levels. In my opinion, we must do better; create better alternatives.

What do we mean by changes?

The pandemic has changed the world as we knew it. If we are to narrow it down, changes have occurred in environmental conditions as well as consumption patterns.

Reducing and maintaining such levels of emissions and carbon-footprint is difficult to carry out on a global scale in an economically feasible manner. However, lifestyles have greatly altered and along with them, so have the ways in which we consume.

A prime example of this is the predicted spike in energy use in residential apartments and a simultaneous dip in educational and commercial buildings. While the former is around six per cent to
eight per cent, the latter is said to be between 25 per cent and 30 per cent.

Such a change must be sustained. By adopting greener practices at home and work, we could impact the environment in a far healthier way once the pandemic ceases. After all, it is only in a moment of crisis that such seismic shifts in attitudes occur; that we, as a species, sit up and take notice.

How can the changes be implemented?

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is equally likely to shift global attention and resources
away from the climate crisis as governments will now scramble to repair floundering economies.
Once again, the result may be gradual yet profound consequences on the environment.

In that case, the possibility of a sustainable future goes back to being a daunting question mark. However, if we recognize the similarities between the two, it may be within our reach to nourish the planet back to health. Slightly, if at all.

Remote working is one of the surefire ways to reduce carbon footprint and energy use. Experts
have also noted the positive impact of remote work on the cost of living as it enables people to shift to smaller towns. Offices have, in fact, started implementing such measures with success.

In essence, both crises are a result of overconsumption and exponential growth against limited
resources. If the realization is applied to tackling climate change in post-pandemic times, initiatives to fund low-carbon infrastructure and green economy jobs could be made feasible. Improving the quality of public broadband and increased taxes on airplane fuels can also prove successful.

On a different note, the pandemic has scared nations and companies to reveal themselves to globalized supply-demand networks for the fear of contagion. If such shrinkage in supply-chains sparks indigenous production, there’s no reason why carbon footprints can’t be reduced on a long-term basis.

Where does land-use planning figure in?

While speaking of sustainable long-term measures, it’s impossible to not talk about land-use planning. Highly effective in reducing emissions and building a collective action-plan, it is one of the most plausible ways of mitigating climate change in a post-COVID world.

The pandemic is testimony to the fact that the global crisis response needs reflection and change. Land-use planning provides a fertile ground to implement these lessons by integrating factors such as transportation, waste management, natural resources and hazards, agriculture, and heritage into a sustainable model of urban development.

Doing so is hard work, but one that hugely pays off. By allocating resources, improving public health, carpooling, and protecting diversity, not only can we identify existing lapses but also promote the economic viability of an environment-friendly lifestyle.

Essentially, land-use planning, and management focuses on green infrastructure that is energy-efficient and facilitates the growth of mixed-use communities. Not only is the practice a financially sound one, but it also caters to the community at large, including the municipal corporations.

 

To say the least, it leaves us better prepared for the future.

Conclusion

So far, we seem to have been carrying on the 20th-century notion of hedonistic consumption, and the results are here for all to see. The Coronavirus pandemic has only added to what was a simmering disaster waiting to break loose.

If the environmental benefits of this health crisis are to be harvested and carried forward, implementing systemic changes is the only recourse available.

To that end, land-use planning can prove to be a game-changer. As a practice, it operates on the fundamental principle of integration. On a larger scale, this can lead to far more sustainable models of urban living which could potentially make way for better crisis management in the future. And that is something the world surely needs.