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How Has COVID-19 Impacted Climate Change?

by Ellie Harrison

5min read

Earth overshoot day is set for August 22nd this year, it would likely have been in July as it was last year, but the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting global lockdowns have pushed the date back significantly. So does that mean COVID-19 has fixed climate change? Unfortunately not, the situation is a lot more complex than it appears at first glance and sustainable progress can only be achieved with a deliberate, systemic approach.

What is Earth Overshoot?

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used more from nature than our planet can renew in that entire year. As humans use more and more of the earth's natural resources, for the last few years this date has arrived sooner each year. Earth Overshoot Day was marked on 29th December in 1970 and will be 22nd August in 2020. This means as a species, we are currently using up nature's resources around 1.7 times faster than the planet's ecosystems can regenerate them.

Efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting economic slowdown, have reduced humanity’s footprint. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have meant a 9.3% reduction in the global ecological footprint compared to last year, which includes a 14.5% reduction in our carbon footprint. It’s been a unique opportunity to witness firsthand the direct impact of behaviour change.

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A caveat

In the depths of the Overshoot Day site, are individual countries’ overshoot days and, whilst not the worst example, it shows that if everyone globally lived like we do in the UK, this date would have likely fallen much earlier, on May 16th 2020. It’s thanks to countries like Ecuador and Cuba that it falls much later.

The UK, like the USA and Qatar, require other countries to use less of their own ‘biocapacity’ to fulfill their demand for things like oil and food. There is, of course, an element of redistribution based on population densities, but that doesn’t explain why Indonesia (with a population of around 270million) has one of the latest overshoot days and the UK (with a population of around 67million) has one of the earliest. So we need to hold the mirror up a little and question why we are using such a disproportionate amount of global resources.

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Building back better

We can be thankful that, out of a horrific situation, we have inadvertently given earth a little respite, but we need to make a conscious, global effort to ‘build back better’. This means deep economic reform and a deliberate transition to a regenerative culture that puts back in more than it takes out. That sounds intangible, but there are hugely promising signs that we are starting to do this already like:

  • 500+ B Corp companies committing to Net-zero by 2030, 
  • or the price of oil being at an all time low and renewables fast becoming the more competitive option,
  • or France passing a law banning the disposal of unsold goods in the fashion sector
  • and the increased support for Universal Basic Income policies

So let’s use the opportunity COVID has presented, as well as all the amazing groundwork to date, to continue to #movethedate of Earth Overshoot year on year, transitioning to a new state where humanity thrives within the means of our planet, by ‘design rather than disaster'.

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Little heroes: we need you!

To help everyone do their best to move the Earth Overshoot date forward, we want to create a sustainability guide. We’ll be sharing facts and tips throughout August for how to live more sustainably over the next month, and we’d love for little ones to share their tips too! We’ll choose the best ones and print them in our guide book.
Click to find out how to join in

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Ellie Harrison
by Ellie Harrison

Ellie heads up all-things sustainability, making sure everything we do is as conscious as possible. She couldn’t live without volleyball, killer whales and porridge… though hopefully not at the same time. 

All Ellie Harrison's article


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