The Covid-19 pandemic may have battered and bruised the world, but an evident positive impact was that it helped relieve the pressure on environment, even if temporarily.
While schools, workplaces, transport and industry remained closed for a large part of the year due to lockdown, the grey skies started turning blue and pollutants in the air began to settle.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board, there was a significant improvement in air quality during lockdown (from March 22 to May 18) as PM2.5 content in Delhi air reduced by almost 50 per cent as compared with levels in 2019.
India’s five most-polluted cities — Ghaziabad, Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida and Gurgaon — which are also in the top 10 globally, reported 50 per cent lower pollution during the first 10 days of the lockdown, said Greenpeace India.
Besides the air quality, there was improvement in river water quality of Yamuna, Brahmani, Godavari, Cauvery, Krishna, Tapi and Brahmaputra which was attributed to minimal industrial effluent discharges due to closure of almost all industries, absence of waste materials, and other garbage due to human activities, the CPCB had said.
Swinging into action after a tiger at a US zoo tested positive for Covid-19, the environment ministry had asked all states and union territories to restrict the movement of people in various national parks and sanctuaries to avoid any human-animal contact.
However, as per a study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, incidents of wildlife poaching in India more than doubled during the Covid-19 lockdown with 88 animals being killed for meat and trade during this time compared to 35 in the pre-lockdown days.
Fear of the impact of Covid-19 on the world economy also caused the government to worry about achieving the climate goals under the Paris Agreement making Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar ask people not to get “too romantic” about the blue skies, fresh air and the green earth.
Noting there was a direct link between Covid-19 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of well being and health, which is a part of the SDGs set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by 2030, the minister had said that the economic consequences of the pandemic may lead to weakening India’s commitment to climate action.
However, later, he said that India was the only G20 country in compliance with the Paris Agreement targets and that none of the developed nations are compliant.
The year 2020 also saw a huge tussle between the Centre and environmentalists over the amendments to the environment impact assessment (EIA) with the latter alleging that it intended to bring in controversial amendments such as post-facto grant of approval.
The government denied all allegations and responded in negative saying it had already extended the deadline by over a month.
The year ended on a proud note for the country with 42 wetlands from India, the highest in South Asia, being added to the list of recognised sites of international importance under the treaty of Ramsar Convention.