Covid-19 has disrupted more aspects of life than one. The pandemic has directly affected the health and economic sectors across nations. As a result of the time and money lost due to multiple lockdowns and restrictions, stimulus packages were announced by almost all governments to get the industries up and running. However, what was overlooked was its long-term impact on climate. As such, the measures have taken us one step back in our efforts to tackle climate change.
Protective measures to fight the pandemic included the use of masks, gloves and PPE kits that are made of single-use plastics—whose disposal or degradation is not easy. Due to the lack of awareness among the general public on disposal norms of these items or due to their carelessness, these single use-plastics could become one of the biggest contributors to climate change and also create long-term problems for the environment. One concept in environmental law and regulation has been constant—sustainable development—and the current policies are not in line with that concept. Currently, in order to save the present generation, the future of the coming generations are being compromised.
Developing countries face this issue more intensely as they must now divert their limited resources towards managing the current economic and health crisis.
In fact, Climate Action Tracker rates India’s measures as highly insufficient to prevent climate change. The Vivid Economics’ Greenness of Stimulus Index had outlined India’s green policies this year and compared it with other countries. These measures included investment in battery development, strengthening of the solar photovoltaic industry and the afforestation programme. Some of the areas where India has performed poorly and may not be able to abide by its commitment under the Paris Agreement are fossil fuels, support for agriculture and coal. In addition, a lot of subsidies were also given to the energy sector. Any emissions-intensive economy would not be able to reach the ambitious goal as encapsulated by COP 26: securing net zero emissions by the middle of this century. Now, this may seem like an achievable goal but when it comes to climate change, the recovery is slow.
The corporations, big or small, will obviously look to cut costs and make up for lost time due to Covid-19, which could negatively impact the climate. Typical examples of the same would be working beyond office hours and using non-biodegradable materials for production in manufacturing-heavy sectors. It should be the company’s responsibility to keep a check on such practices and environment-friendly methods should be adopted as far as practicable.
The government is not the only stakeholder in improving the environmental conditions because ultimately the resources are limited and are to be shared by everyone. It is a collective duty to not only make the environment liveable but also preserve it for the future generations.
Therefore, the companies’ mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should include some positive contributions towards the environment.
Implementing green measures that might increase the working cost of a company could also be treated as a CSR contribution. This can also include adopting green practices that would increase the operating costs of the company. The additional cost could be treated as a CSR contribution. Burdening companies with excessive compliances at this point is not the only solution and hence a balance must be sought while deciding the measures.
As ordinary citizens, we cannot and should not be allowed to shirk our responsibility and must contribute our bit to society. The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet and therefore, it would be wise to behave responsibly by taking proper precautions while disposing of items that are not environmentally friendly. It is equally the responsibility of the healthcare sector, which includes hospitals and clinics, to practice proper disposal of the protective items, which are potential biohazards.
Keeping these things in mind, it will be safe to conclude that we have a long way to go in reaching the goal as mentioned in the Paris Agreement and also achieving targets set by individual countries. We need to take swift and prominent measures to at least get back to where we stood before Covid-19.
Kavya Lalchandani, Legal scholar based out of Delhi (email@example.com)