- Journal Article
Abstract: This review examines recent work on the environmental impacts of COVID-19 from the perspective of systems-oriented sustainability research, focusing on three areas in which environmental change occurs in an integrated system together with people and technologies: air quality and human health, climate change, and production and consumption. It summarizes relevant methods and approaches, and identifies criteria for evaluating whether sustainability-relevant research captures important components and dynamics and can lead to broader insights about sustainability. The review then assesses whether and how COVID-19 focused environmental research in the three areas (1) examines components of an integrated system; (2) accounts for interactions including complex, adaptive dynamics; and (3) is oriented to informing actions towards advancing sustainability.
A key finding is that efforts to analyze the environmental impacts of COVID-19 to date have not comprehensively accounted for complex, coupled interactions, especially those involving societal factors, potentially leading to erroneous conclusions about changes and their implications, and hampering the ability of such research to provide broader insights across sustainability-relevant domains. A lack of a systems perspective in COVID-19 focused work is also illustrative of a broader challenge in environmental research, which often neglects societal feedbacks.
The review concludes by suggesting practical steps through which researchers can better incorporate systems perspectives in research on sustainability-relevant systems, including using frameworks to identify important components and interactions, developing new approaches that connect analytical frameworks to models and methods, and advancing theory and methodology within the field of sustainability science.