Subsequent significant drops were witnessed during the global economic recessions in 1975, 1983 and 2009, resulting in 100, 1000 and 300 tonnes of carbon emissions reduction, respectively.
Projections based on current travel, work and industry restrictions have estimated emissions to drop by 2500 million tons globally for 2020. Singapore, too, will face reductions in absolute emissions with the implementation of circuit breaker measures.
Overall, air quality has improved significantly due to reduced industrial and socio-economic activities brought about by the restrictions put in place and increased telecommuting. Singapore has recorded reduced pollutant levels in the atmosphere.
The average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) level was 13µg/m3, down from 27µg/m3 in the same period last year. The average levels of Particulate Matter (PM) 10 and 2.5, carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide had also fallen by 8-43 per cent due to the circuit breaker measures.
With this, Singapore’s daily pollutant levels are now within World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines, something it had struggled to achieve in the past.
There has been a spike in the use of disposals & packaging material, air-conditioning and dependence on food delivery services. But this has been offset and dwarfed by a reduction in commute to work and social activities.
Though experts reckon the drop in emissions and improvement in air quality may be short-lived, it offers the environment a temporary respite from the toll posed by human activity.
Much of the damage is irreversible, and more needs to be done beyond this global pandemic to mitigate climate change.
Impact on mental health
While industrial activity is expected to pick up once restrictions are relaxed, telecommuting instead of business travel can potentially become the new norm and be one strategic lever for corporates looking to decarbonise and reduce their environmental risk exposure.
At a national level, this episode will provide food for thought on long term emission mitigation measures that would contribute towards the climate goal of halving emissions from 2030 peak by 2050.
The social impact of Covid-19 on mental health and emotional wellbeing has been tremendous given the anxiety and uncertainty over the future. Calls to mental health hotlines have gone up, expressing worries about health and the economic fallout.
The suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore’s (SOS) received an increase of more than 22 per cent in the number of calls attended in March compared to that of the same period last year.
The invisibility of the virus has resulted in paranoia and an attitude of hypervigilance and overthinking that impacts mental health negatively.
Restrictions on movement have broken routine and socialisation and changed lifestyle patterns, compounding existential stressors. Domestic violence and conflict also saw an increase during movement restriction measures, with 476 police reports made from April to May.
Employers have a critical role to play in addressing the mental wellbeing of their employees. The pandemic offers corporates an opportunity to restructure their approach to employee wellness and place a greater emphasis on managing mental health at workplaces.
This might result in redesigning workplaces to integrate more greenery and having more flexible working arrangements to embrace work-life harmony. Traditional employee benefits and reward systems can make way for more liberal systems that embrace diversity and inclusivity.
On a positive note, the pandemic has brought out the best in some corporates attempting to do good. On the pandemic onset, the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) was launched to provide wage support for companies to retain local employees.
A total of 32 companies have returned pay-outs totalling S$35 million and will not take future payouts. Some have decided to donate the funds to causes supporting migrant worker assistance, animal cruelty and humanitarian services.
DBS Bank has donated S$2.5 million to help feed vulnerable groups and provide 200,000 meals to the elderly and low-income families. CITI Singapore is providing about 1,600 of its employees a S$1,200 special compensation award.
The moral deliverable and the sense of shared responsibility and community for corporations has heightened during this period. This could be transformational in shifting the needle and witnessing the more systemic sharing of social burden between the government and corporates.
This will allow a more targeted approach for assisting groups that government social safety nets may not have picked up. This sets the path towards a more holistic approach towards nation building and caring for the community.
In place of the pandemic, corporates have found it harder to hold their Annual General Meetings (AGMs). To ensure critical business decisions, such as dividend payouts that may affect investors’ cash flow, are not compromised, the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill passed amendments to allow AGMs to be held virtually.
A smaller quorum number could also be set with documents for notice of meetings sent electronically instead of hard copy. Provision for proxy voting has been made with one specific officeholder, designated as the sole proxy, as a safeguard with extension in timelines for the conduct of AGMs.
On a larger scale, travel restrictions could limit the work of external auditors, potentially leading to incomplete reports or late filings, which could, in turn, impact compliance with debt covenants and contribute to additional uncertainty to markets.
Asset and liability valuation could be affected by the need to perform additional impairment tests. With asset values under pressure, write-downs can be expected in areas such as investments and intangibles.
This will have a profound impact on current accounts, year-end results, future earnings and dividend payments. More crucially, this black swan event will force companies to return to the drawing board to revisit their contingency strategies and reinforce that business will no longer be usual again. @green