Socio-economic and environmental impact worldwide and on the European Union

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The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. First wave: from the first cases to the end of June 2020

Monographs from the National Atlas of Spain.

Thematic structure > Global context of the COVID-19 pandemic > Socio-economic and environmental impact worldwide and on the European Union

The COVID-19 pandemic entailed a standstill to mobility and economic activities during the first half of 2020 that led to both an acute global economic recession and a short-term reduction in the environmental impact of human activities.

Socio-economic impact

  • Map: Gross Domestic Product per capita in the world. 2020. World. PDF. Data.
  • Map: Gross Domestic Product in the European Union. 2019-2020. Europe. PDF. Data.

The map on the Gross Domestic Product per capita reveals the contrast between the most developed countries, located in Europe, North America and Oceania, and the least developed ones, concentrated mainly in Africa. The impact of the 2020 economic crisis was uneven, with different implications for various parts of the world. Europe and the United States registered a sharp drop in GDP as mobility restrictions and temporary company shutdowns curbed their economic activity. In contrast, despite successfully managing to control the pandemic, China, Australia and New Zealand experienced economic downturns mainly caused by the decline in export due to the significant drop in international trade.

With regard to Europe, the map showing the Variation in Gross Domestic Product in the European Union shows two complementary variables, i.e. the 2020 GDP per capita by State and the variation in GDP from mid-2019 to mid-2020. In terms of GDP per capita, the States with higher income were those located in Scandinavia, the Benelux, Germany, France, Austria and Ireland, whilst those with lower income were in Eastern Europe, especially Romania and Bulgaria. In terms of variation, however, the States that suffered the most severe economic contractions during the first half of 2020 were those on the shores of the Mediterranean, along with Belgium, Hungary and Romania. At the other end of the scale, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Scandinavian and Baltic States were the least impacted.

Map: Lost working hours due to COVID-19. 2019-2020. World. PDF. Data.

The labour market is depicted by two graphs. Firstly, the graph on the Evolution of the labour market worldwide shows the evolution of global employment in the medium term, from 2000 to 2020. Only few significant variations are visible in this type of graph. However, it does show a decrease in the total amount of workers and a moderate rise in unemployment during the transition from 2019 to 2020. For its part, the graph depicting the Global distribution of workers in poverty confirms that a large part of the labour force in the least developed countries is living in poverty –particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa–, whilst moderate poverty spans throughout East Asia, South Asia and North Africa.

  • Statistical graph: Evolution of the Labour Market worldwide. 2000-2020. World.
  • Statistical graph: Global distribution of workers in poverty. 2010-2020. World.

One statistic that is clearly indicative of the pandemic’s impact on business activity is the number of lost working hours. The map depicting the amount of Lost working hours Due to COVID-19 shows the heavier burden of the crisis in Andean America (from Colombia to Argentina), part of Central America, the United Kingdom, several southerly EU Member States (Spain, Italy, Greece), South Africa, Morocco, Oman, Turkey, the Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines. Generally speaking, these territories were also the ones most affected by the pandemic, many of which already had fragile labour markets. At the other end of the scale are some of the countries that successfully managed to contain the virus, such as China, Australia and New Zealand, some countries in Indochina, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe (Switzerland, Norway and Belarus) and several EU Member States (the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and the Czech Republic).

  • Map: Unemployment rate in the European Union. 2020. Europe. PDF. Data.
  • Map: Employment rate in the European Union. 2020. Europe. PDF. Data.

Another relevant analysis for assessing how the crisis impacted the labour market is shown on the map depicting the Unemployment rates in the European Union in 2020. Figures were clearly high for Spain, Greece and some Scandinavian and Baltic States. The Eastern States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal, however, had lower unemployment rates. Generally speaking, unemployment increased to a greater extent in States that previously had fragile labour markets and were therefore more exposed to the crisis. It is also worth mentioning that these high figures for Scandinavia could be linked to the fact that these States tend to have better social protection schemes for unemployed than the rest of the European Union. Lastly, it shall be noted that the temporary ‘Job Retention Schemes’ succeeded in tempering the final figures for all EU Member States.

The last map related to the labour market shows the Employment rates in the European Union in 2020. The highest employment rates were registered in the north and the lowest in the south. This map shows certain structural behaviours, such as the greater or lesser insertion of women in the labour market. Figures for 2020 were heavily influenced by the furlough schemes that most States introduced to counteract the pandemic’s impact on the labour market. The States with the highest employment rates were Sweden and the Netherlands, where full employment of both men and women in the context of a moderately ageing population may be pointed out. By contrast, Spain, Italy and Greece had the lowest employment figures, with high ageing and fewer women and young people in the labour market.

To summarise, the pandemic plunged humanity into a severe economic recession that was temporarily tempered by increased cash injections from the Central Banks (with the European Union and the United States leading the way), a notable rise in public spending as well as some other instruments, such as furlough schemes. Nonetheless, as the world starts to overcome the worst of the crisis, each country shall address its level of indebtedness and face up to the effects the pandemic has had on employment.

Environmental impact

The COVID-19 pandemic had some effects on environment as well. The initial lockdowns and consequent reductions in business activity had a direct impact on air and water pollution as well as on greenhouse gas emissions in many developed countries.

Water quality in rivers and seas clearly improved due to a drastic reduction in industrial discharges. The difference was particularly remarkable in North America and Europe, where, for example, clear water in Venice’s canals could be seen. Wild animals were also quick to take advantage of the absence of humans on the streets and could be spotted roaming the avenues in some major European cities. Energy demand fell globally by 4% and CO2 emissions decreased by 5.8% in 2020, a fall the likes of which had not been seen since the Second World War. This prompted several international organisations, such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), to revise their projections for greenhouse gas emissions during the third decade of the 21st century downwards from their pre-pandemic figures.

Unfortunately, however, if data are analysed by country or world region, there is not much cause for optimism. In China, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions dropped drastically during the first half of 2020 but began to recover before summer. In fact, figures for 2020 show a 5% increase in CO2 emissions and polluting particles into the atmosphere in large cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, compared to 2019. In the European Union and the United States, the fall in polluting emissions was very notable from March to May 2020 (between -20% and -25%), and also the remainder of the year also stayed below 2019 values.

The analysis by economic activities shows that the pollution caused by industry and energy decreased in the first half of 2020 and increased again during the second half of the year. By contrast, CO2 emissions due to land and air transport also fell during the first half of 2020 but did not recover towards the end of the year.

  • Statistical graph: Variation of CO2 emissions due COVID-19 confinement in the world. 2019-2020. World.
  • Illustration: Forecast of global GHG emissions due to COVID-19. 2015-2030. World.
  • Map: Variation in NO2 concentration in Europe due to the COVID-19 lockdown. 2020. Europe. PDF. Data.

Co-authorship of the text in Spanish: Carlos Baños Castiñeira, Agustín Gámir Orueta, Rubén C. Lois González and Jorge Olcina Cantos. See the list of members engaged


You can download the complete publication The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. First wave: from the first cases to the end of June 2020 in Libros Digitales del ANE site.