A sustainable post-COVID world

    The U.S. Capitol is seen in the background as an environmental activist blocks traffic as part of "Shut Down DC" protests seeking to pressure U.S. politicians to fight climate change in Washington, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    “The silver lining of COVID-19 has been a 40 per cent drop in nitrogen oxide levels registered across the six air monitoring stations of the Maltese islands as a result of the decline in car usage in the last month,” Malta’s Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia said.

    “My wish is that we do not revert to the pre-COVID practices. We will roll out incentives for people to keep working from home to keep pollution levels down.”

    What does a sustainable post-COVID world look like? Here are some of my ideas:

    • A national teleworking policy, with support for businesses to facilitate this. This also makes business sense: companies whose staff work mostly from home can make tremendous savings on rental costs, and can gain access to a wider pool of employees.
    • For large organisations where physical presence is a must (manufacturing and hospitals come to mind), requiring shared transport to be provided to staff, again providing financial support to do this.
    • 60 to 80% of learning for 18+-year-olds should take place online. In Malta, this includes the University of Malta (10,000 students) and MCAST colleges.
    • Incentives for businesses to offer their products and services online, again with financial and possibly technical support. In the past month we have seen suppliers of anything from groceries to fitness classes going online. We can keep this up, and build on it after COVID.
    • All Government services are to be offered online. This includes applications, meetings, decisions on planning and environmental permit applications, and many others.

    Take the University of Malta, for example. Imagine what taking 5,000 cars off the streets daily would achieve?

    • Less traffic – meaning better air quality, lower noise levels. The result? Better physical health and improved well-being for many, and a lower healthcare bill for the Maltese Government.
    • Reduced need for car parking spaces. The result? Spaces that we could use for other things. More parks and more trees, perhaps?

    Imagine if people did not have to spend countless hours running errands, travelling to the gym, etc., but had products delivered to their homes, and most of their services delivered virtually.

    Imagine what people could do if they gained an hour every day, which they previously spent in traffic. They might exercise, meditate, practise a hobby, get more rest, spend more time with their families.

    Imagine if all these wide roads, previously choked with traffic but now less so, and all the parking spaces and car parks that are no longer needed, could be repurposed? Trees planted, walking and cycling encouraged.

    Imagine a world where we’re all moving at a slightly slower pace, breathing lighter, and living healthier.

    It sounds like a better world to me.

    Rachel Decelis is an environmental consultant specialising in environmental permitting and air quality.