Earth Day under the COVID-19 pandemic

Economic activity causes the main impact of human beings on earth, and this has fallen by the COVID-19 health crisis to levels never before recorded in times of peace. Strict lockdown measures imposed by more than half of humanity are behind this economic slowdown.

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Written by Luis A. López and Jorge E. Zafrilla (University of Castilla-La Mancha)

OECD estimates from March quantify a reduction in GDP, ranging from 20% to 30% in some EU countries. The IMF predicts a drop in GDP by 2020 of up to two digits for countries such as Spain and Italy. However, these institutions indeed foresee a quick economic recovery by 2021 when we return to the "new normal."

Currently, and in lack of knowledge on how the virus will spread globally, it is mainly the rich countries that are suffering the most significant consequences of the health crisis in economic terms. These rich countries are primarily responsible for the poor state of our planet along their global supply chains. Regions such as Europe and North America are the main users of natural resources whose extraction leads to the loss of biodiversity and the generation of more than 34% of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change in 2016 [1]. The economic effects of the pandemic in these regions will spread through their robust and globalized production chains, resulting in the reduction of the pressure that economic activity generates in many parts of our planet.

In terms of Earth Day, the crisis of COVID-19 should involve a catharsis that helps us to rebuild the moral and institutional foundations at the global level. The challenges facing humanity are numerous. They include local and atmospheric pollution, the destruction of biodiversity, the overexploitation of natural resources, the consequences of adverse and devastating climatic events on climate, and their effects on disease spread. The myopic anthropocentric ecological vision of the human being will place us at the center of all the complex consequences of the coming global crises.

While human beings are facing their greatest challenge as a civilization since World War II, planet Earth is temporarily taking a break. As borders are shut and cities are emptied, carbon and particle emissions fall. It should be noted that reducing local pollution is an additional way to deal with the effects of this pandemic. COVID-19 increases its mortality in those regions with the highest amount of polluting particles in the environment due to the severe breathing problems it provokes [2-3].

The necessity to work together and in a coordinated way between countries is probably the only positive aspect that we can draw from this global health crisis. The considerable lack of resilience shown by some health services globally is an excellent example of this. The high level of international dependence and the limited access to production and distribution of medical and pharmaceutical equipment has compromised the capacity of affected countries to react adequately. In a globalized world, where fragmented global production chains dominate production structures, cooperation between countries is the sole answer. Given crises such as the COVID-19, and in the medium term given the threats and challenges facing humanity and planet Earth, it will be necessary to reformulate international institutions to provide better and joint responses.

Times of crisis are exceptional times to take extraordinary measures. The recent international agreements in the fight against climate change, as well as the proposed actions such as the Green Deals introduced in Europe, for example, must represent the basis for the new era we are entering. Roadmaps where keywords such as circular economy, efficiency, innovation, energy and industrial decarbonization, the development of public goods or joint and global actions, are perfectly matched with the reformulation of the social bases on which the system rests. All of them form a clear objective of reducing vulnerability and improving the resilience not only of our society but also of our planet. We all have to walk together on a path that leads the world to live within its limits.


[1] Our World in Data (2018). Global inequalities in CO₂ emissions, by Hannah Ritchie October 16.

[2] Xiao Wu, Rachel C. Nethery, M. Benjamin Sabath, Danielle Braun and Francesca Dominici (2020). Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States. Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, 02115, USA.

[3] WEFORUM (2020). The deadly link between COVID-19 and air pollution. World Economic Forum Articles. Written by Arvind Kumar, Jane Burston, and Josh Karliner. 15 April 2020.


University Professor , University of Castilla-La Mancha